WMS announces new head of school for academic year
Washington Montessori School recently kicked off the new school year and celebrated the installation of Carney M. Heavey O’Brien as its second head of school.
Heavey O’Brien replaces Pat Werner who retired this July after having served as head since 1975.
The ceremony began with a “Timeline of WMS” lesson led by Lower Elementary Head Teacher Debby DeGuire.
“This blue ribbon represents the history of WMS, from its very beginning,” DeGuire said as she handed the end of the ribbon to Ineke Ghering, who taught the school’s first class in 1965.
“WMS was a very small school founded by Elvira Charles, in the basement of a church,” DeGuire continued as teachers and students joined to help unfurl the ribbon.
The Timeline of WMS takes inspiration from “The Long Black Strip,” which is often cited as the most powerful lesson in a Montessori classroom.
Meant to inspire wonder and awe for the age of the universe compared to the very little time humans have existed, the impressionistic lesson communicates the passage of time in a concrete way and allows children to begin to understand their place in the vastness of the universe.
Likewise, the Timeline of WMS is meant to inspire wonder and awe for the school’s humble beginnings and to remind the students of their place in a larger WMS community that began many years ago and will continue for many years to come.
“Today, we welcome to our community new students, new teachers,” DeGuire said. “And we also welcome our new head of school, Carney O’Brien, who will continue writing the history of WMS as we move forward.”
She then symbolically handed the ribbon to O’Brien and asked for a moment of reflection.
Bill Dunbar, WMS Board chairman, then offered a welcome.
“I’m honored to be here today,” Dunbar said. “This year’s opening bell is especially meaningful. Not only are we celebrating the start of a new school year together, but we are also officially welcoming our new head of school, Carney O’Brien, to our community,” he said.
Heavey O’Brien’s four children, Reilly, Quinn, Seamus and Connolly gathered for the ceremony, as well as one of Heavey O’Brien’s nine siblings and her three children.
Lower elementary students, Jackson Morse, Sarah Menozzi-Weisgal, Finley Clark and Saylor Fisher, presented Heavey O’Brien’s family members with Washington Montessori gear to welcome them to the community.
Dunbar, along with others representing different branches of the WMS community, then began the Installation Charge.
Heavey O’Brien was then presented with the school compass, representing “the combination of vision, grit, loyalty and love demonstrated by our first head of school, Pat Werner, as she worked tirelessly to lead our community in providing a Montessori education for our children,” Dunbar said.
The school compass bears the name and dates of founders Elvira and Charles Otis, Head of School Emeritus Pat Werner, and Head of School Heavey O’Brien.
Elvira Otis, Werner and Carney’s signatures adorn the compass, which will be passed down to future heads.
“I am so incredibly grateful and humbled to have earned your confidence to lead this exceptional school and community,” Heavey O’Brien said. “I’ve been anticipating this moment for almost a year now and imagining all the different ways I might express what this means to me and how very sincerely I pledge to honor this trust you have placed with me.”
The new head of school then shared a little about herself.
“My parents instilled in me and my brothers and sisters the essential lessons of curiosity, grit, empathy and grace,” she said. “I believe the best tribes, communities, schools … engender in us these same lessons and this is what I see in the Washington Montessori community.”
Heavey O’Brien and some students then rang the school bear to usher in the new school year.
The head of school comes from Chatham Hall in Virginia where she was the assistant head of school for enrollment management.
Prior to that, from 2010-14, she served Indian Mountain School as its director of secondary school advising, ninth grade dean and taught English.
She began her independent school career at Mizzentop Day School in Pawling, N.Y., where she taught a variety of subjects including early childhood art, dramatic lit and theater arts, public speaking/debate and writing.
She also held a number of administrative roles through her time at Mizzentop, including director of admission and assistant head of school.
She earned a B.A. in English from Vassar College and did her graduate work in educational psychology at Marist College.
She has been an active volunteer for Vassar, served as the director of volunteer services for The Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and co-produced several professional productions at Bardavon Theater.