WMS people

Installation & Opening Bell


On Monday, September 10, 2018, the Washington Montessori School community gathered in the theater to officially usher in a new school year and to celebrate the installation of Carney M. Heavey O’Brien as its second Head of School. Carney replaces Pat Werner who retired this July after having served as Head since 1975.

Carney joins WMS from Chatham Hall in Virginia where she was the Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management. From 2010-2014, Carney served Indian Mountain School as its Director of Secondary School Advising, Ninth Grade Dean and taught English. Carney began her independent school career at Mizzentop Day School (Pawling, NY) where she taught a variety of subjects including Early Childhood Art, Dramatic Lit and Theater Arts, Public Speaking/Debate and Writing. Carney also held a number of administrative roles through her time at Mizzentop, including Director of Admission and Assistant Head of School. Carney earned a BA 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, NY, and co-produced several professional productions at Bardavon Theater. Carney is the mother of four grown children.

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,” Debby 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,” the lesson 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, this 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 our school’s humble beginnings and to remind our 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,” Debby 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.” Debby then symbolically handed the ribbon to Carney and asked for a moment of reflection.

The ceremony was then turned over to Bill Dunbar, Board Chair, who welcomed students, teachers and members of the Board to the annual Opening Bell Ceremony. “I’m honored to be here today. 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.” said Bill. “We are thrilled to welcome Carney and her family to WMS today.”

Carney’s four children, Reilly, Quinn, Seamus and Connolly, gathered for the ceremony as well as one of Carney’s nine siblings. Her sister Caitlin and her three children were also able to join us for the ceremony. Lower Elementary students, Jackson Morse, Sarah Menozzi-Weisgal, Finley Clark and Saylor Fisher, presented her family members with Washington Montessori gear to welcome them to the community.


Bill along with others representing different branches of the WMS community then began the “Installation Charge.”

Bill Dunbar, as the Board Chair: “Carney, as our new Head of School, we entrust you to lead our community as we prepare our students for an ever changing world.”

Ineke Ghering, as WMS’s first teacher: “We entrust you as our Head of School to honor and uphold the mission and traditions of Washington Montessori School.”

Naomi Mwanza, a student in Jena’s Lower Elementary classroom whose birthday makes her the exact middle student of the WMS community: “We entrust you as our Head of School to focus on what’s best for each and every student.”

Matilda Giampietro, as the longest serving current teacher at WMS and a parent of alum: “We entrust you as our Head of School to support and guide us in the essential work of fostering academic excellence through the development of responsibility, self-esteem and self-reliance.”

Alissa Monteleone, as President of the PA: “We entrust you as our Head of School to engage and connect with the different branches of our school community as well as the Litchfield County community at large.”

Alex McNaughton, as a current Board Member and a parent of alum: “We entrust you to lead Washington Montessori School into the future with strength, compassion and vision.”

Carney 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.” The school compass bears the name and dates of founders Elvira and Charles Otis, Head of School emeritus Pat Werner, and Head of School Carney O’Brien. Elvira, Pat and Carney’s signatures also adorn the compass, which will be passed down to future Heads as well.

“You are now forever part of our school’s history and legacy,” said Bill. “May this compass inspire you as you navigate WMS through the next part of our journey and may it lead to many years of joy, fulfillment, and prosperity for you, and for WMS.”

After a long applause of welcome, Carney addressed the community. “I am so incredibly grateful and humbled to have earned your confidence to lead this exceptional school and community,” she 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.”

Carney then sat down on the stage in front of our youngest students and told them a story–her story, of “how I became the human I am today and why I love this school so much.” She spoke of her parents and their ten children—Carney being the first. She recalled the lessons they taught her. Lessons of self-reliance and determination—“My dad made sure all of us could take care of ourselves. He never let any of us beat him in a game of Monopoly or a footrace.” Lessons of grace and courtesy—”My mom taught us how to behave outside the classroom when there was no homework and no one was looking.”

“My parents instilled in me and my brothers and sisters the essential lessons of curiosity, grit, empathy and grace. I believe the best tribes, communities, SCHOOLS… engender in us these same lessons and this is what I see in the Washington Montessori Community,” she said before listing her promises to the WMS community.

“I promise as I stand here before you today that I will honor all the opportunities with which I have been blessed and I will do my very best every day:

  • to lead our community with curiosity and an open mind excited about the endless possibilities of the future.
  • to honor and uphold the essential  mission and beautiful traditions of Washington Montessori School;
  • to maintain my focus – in all matters, first and foremost, on what’s best for each and every student;
  • to never stop learning  and to support and guide our faculty in the imperative work of providing an exceptional education yoked inextricably with the development of responsibility, self-esteem and self-reliance;
  • to engage and connect with the different branches of our school community as well as the Litchfield County community, the nation, and the globe…
  • Finally, I promise to lead Washington Montessori School into the future with courage, empathy, and imagination.”

When the Installation was complete, focus was turned to the official Opening Bell ceremony, where Carney, now officially the Head of School, rang the school bell along with students to usher in the new school year.

See pictures from the 2018 Opening Bell Ceremony, which included Carney’s official welcome to the community on Flickr.