A Chandler school lost a beloved principal unexpectedly Sunday.
Saunders Montague, 54, was principal at the Ken “Chief” Hill Learning Academy, an alternative campus in the Chandler Unified School District that opened in 2009 under Montague’s leadership. Montague died unexpectedly from a heart attack Sunday night while playing basketball.
“We're struggling with the loss of a great man this morning. Saunders had a passion for working with youth who were struggling academically and socially. He left a legacy through his commitment to helping students overcome obstacles and get back on path for a successful life,” district spokesman Terry Locke said in a news release.
Montague came to the Chandler district in 2004. Prior to taking over the district’s alternative program, he was dean of students at Basha High School.
Craig Gilbert, assistant superintendent for secondary education, had known Montague and had been friends with him since he arrived at his first Chandler school.
“He’s a great person, a great man, a great friend. He was always willing to give his time for every kid, for parents,” Gilbert said Monday. “You can’t ask for a better person to be around kids. He was always willing to give of himself first and not worry about what he was or wasn’t going to get out of it. When you look at people you want your kids to be around because of the passion they have, he is one of those people.”
Gilbert said that passion carried into all areas of Montague’s life.
“He was passionate about kids. He was passionate about being active in his church and he was passionate about his beliefs. With all that, he was about treating people good and doing things to help people be better,” Gilbert said.
Ken “Chief” Hill Learning Academy offers a small school environment to students who struggle at the bigger campuses. When the campus was under construction, Montague was excited about giving those students a place of their own. While most students only spend a short time on the campus, some remain there throughout the rest of their academic career.
Faculty were called Sunday night and the district brought in a crisis response team Monday morning to work with students at the school, Locke said.
“The focus is making sure we have support for our students, our teachers and our parents. He touched a lot of lives. It’s a huge loss. It’s a huge loss to CUSD, but it’s a huge loss to everyone because he has that connection with and passion with people. It’s going to affect a lot of people,” Gilbert said.
Montague is survived by wife, Mary Montague, son Saunders, daughters Dominique and Veronica, and mother, Shirley Montague.
Information about services was not available as of Monday afternoon.
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