Finally, in February of 1964, Countryside Montessori School opened its doors. Its first directress was Pearl Vanderwall, a native of Ceylon who had studied under Dr. Maria Montessori. When the school opened, she taught half-day classes to 16 students.
The school operated in one building, now known as the Montessori building. The second building, now called the Annex, was used as rental property. The renter’s backyard, however, was the school’s playground, as it is today. A menagerie of animals, including ponies, goats, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, sheep, pigs, and donkeys shared the backyard at different times.
By Countryside’s second year, enrollment had grown to 46 children. During 1965, a special 10-week training course for Montessori teachers was held at Countryside. It was conducted by Lena Wikramaratne, another native of Ceylon who had also trained under Dr. Maria Montessori. Twenty women, some from as far away as Canada, Mexico, New York and California, attended the training course at Countryside.
Rita Zimny was recruited in the fall of 1967 by Mrs. Felling to become a teacher at Countryside. That same year, the school became a full affiliate of the American Montessori Society, and Mrs. Vanderwall left Countryside to open her own school.
In 1973, Raymond and Mary Felling approached Rita Zimny and her husband, George, and asked them to consider taking over the school. Although they planned to continue their operation of Countryside Day School, the Fellings wanted to retire from the Montessori school and to leave it in good hands.
In May of that year, the Zimnys became the owners and operators of Countryside Montessori School. At this time, the teachers included Rita Zimny and Ellen Grindon Carmody. Ms. Ellen was a teacher at Countryside until May 2003.
The Zimnys made some sweeping changes when they took their place at the school’s helm. They assembled the Parent Handbook, typed up the school brochure, and began regular written communication with parents via letters sent home. Mrs. Zimny began holding weekly staff meetings and monthly meetings with individual teachers. The improved communication between staff members created a more organized and cohesive school environment. The ponies stayed on, but the other farm animals did not.
The Zimnys started the school’s summer program in 1974. The Fellings had held a small summer program some years earlier. The full day program was discontinued in 1995 when the Zimnys decided to devote their efforts and the school’s facilities to the half-day program and to the summer program.