History of School

Mary Stone Fraser

Mary Fraser began Sea Pines Montessori School in a one-room classroom. She was guided by her desire to provide Montessori education for her own two daughters as well as the growing Sea Pines Plantation and island-wide community of children. From the beginning, the Sea Pines Montessori has always been an outstanding and exemplary school in the national and international Montessori community.



1968: Mary Wyman Stone Fraser, wife of Sea Pines Plantation developer Charles E. Fraser, founded the Sea Pines Montessori School (SPMS), the first Montessori school in South Carolina. Sally Cook came from Kansas City with her daughter, Jennifer, to become the first Directress of the class of 33 children. Class was held in one room of the Tree House Restaurant Complex, now a convenience store on South Forest Beach.

Sally Cook Humphrey

1969: The next year SPMS renovated and moved into the old Arcade Building on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean where it remained for the next eight years.

1972: Sally Cook became Mrs. Charles Humphrey.

1973: Maxine Carroll (later Swingle), future Headmistress, became an active parent volunteer.

1974: Sea Pines Company withdrew its subsidy of SPMS and became a Board-run, non-profit, independent school. Sally Cook Humphrey was affirmed as the first Headmistress. The Parents’ Association was formed (which was called MOMS: Mothers of Montessori Students) and became the fundraising arm of the School.

SPMS on the Ocean

1975: Maxine Carroll (later Swingle), Sally’s daughter Jennifer Cook (later Cauble) and four other teachers took the first Montessori training course offered by Dr. Elizabeth Caspari on Hilton Head Island. Dr. Caspari was a student of Dr. Maria Montessori. The teachers received their Montessori Primary (3-6 year old) diplomas the following year. This core group of teachers remained with the School through its 25th Anniversary and beyond.

1977: SPMS moved to its current location at 9 Fox Grape Road with three 3-6 Primary classrooms (Blue, Yellow, and Red Rooms), office and storage designed by architect John Bulken. The Board with the support of the Parents’ Association obtained a loan. Pledges of financial support from each parent were accepted as collateral. The enrollment was 84 children from 70 families.

Maxine Carroll Swingle

1980: The Toddler Program was added to SPMS. Classes were first held in parents’ homes, then at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and thereafter at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Methodist Church until the program moved on campus.

1981: A fourth 3-6 Primary classroom (Green), a Transition Class (the Purple Room) and a canopy to complete the front of the school were added.

1982: Sally Cook Humphrey retired after heading the school for 14 years. Maxine Carroll (later Swingle) succeeded Humphrey as the second Headmistress.

1985: A fifth 3-6 Primary classroom (Orange) and a toddler classroom (Pink) was added to the campus by renting space at Hilton Head Preparatory (HHP) School’s Lower School building.

9 Foxgrape

1991: SPMS extended its lease with HHP for an additional year and added a modular classroom unit to help meet the demands of the wait list, as well as build the new classrooms which could accommodate these children. There was a morning and an afternoon session of 3 and 4 year old children housed in this modular classroom unit, called Violet and Indigo Rooms. At that time the Transition Class was renamed the Rainbow Room, since that class received children from all the other 3-6 Primary classrooms.

1992: A 7,240 square foot building expansion project was completed. The Pink and Orange Rooms moved from HHP to the new facility. The Violet and Indigo Rooms from the modular unit combined to form the Purple Room in the newly expanded facility. A second Pink Room was added, renaming the toddler rooms the Light Pink Room and the Dark Pink Room. A room for the school’s already existing art program was added. The modular classroom became the Rainbow Room. The existing offices, workroom, library, storage area, and kitchen, which had not been enlarged since they were built in 1977 were renovated.

Jennifer Cook Cauble

1993: Maxine Carroll married and became Mrs. Larry Swingle.

2000: The 11,000 square foot Arts Expansion added several rooms to enhance the facility without adding classrooms or student enrollment. The Auditorium or Multipurpose Room was added to provide for physical education, recreation programs, drama, meetings, and conferences. The Music Room was added to offer space for music classes as well as dance, violin and piano lessons. An expanded library was included with a reading room, tutorial room and an audiovisual resource center. The Rainbow Room moved from the modular unity it had been in for four years into the building with a classroom of its own in the far right wing. Finally, a larger, updated office space and a new front entrance were added. The expansion cost of $1.9 million was funded through a Capital Fund Drive. The campaign included pledges and donations from parent, grandparents, alumni and community supporters.

9 Foxgrape in 2007

2005: The Island Montessori Day School was founded by passionate parents who wanted to continue to offer the Montessori Method to children ages 6-9. The classroom of 25 students was located in an office building on Pope Avenue Executive Park Road.

2006: Sea Pines Montessori School and Island Montessori Day School merged to become Sea Pines Montessori Academy (SPMA) offering Montessori education for children 18 months old to 12 years of age. The school facility on Fox Grape Road went through renovations to prepare for two Elementary Classrooms. The Blue and Green Rooms in the left wing, along with the Art Room and teacher lunchroom, were remodeled to become the Elementary Wing. The Green and Blue Rooms moved to different locations in the building and the Music Room became a third Toddler classroom, the Light Yellow Room. The Dark Pink Room was renamed the Light Green Room and the Light Pink Room was renamed the Light Purple Room. The modular unit was renovated and refurbished to become the new Rainbow Room and was used for the All-Day classroom providing care for children in a Montessori environment until 5:30 pm. In December, Maxine Swingle announced her plans to retire after 32 years of dedicated service, 25 years as Headmistress.

Judy Townsend-Stallone

2007: Jennifer Cook Cauble served as Interim Head of School from January through March as Maxine Swingle prepared to leave. In April, Judy Townsend-Stallone began as the new Head of School. In the Fall, Sea Pines Montessori Academy opened with 11 classrooms: three toddler rooms, five primary (3-6) rooms, 2 elementary rooms and one after-school room providing Montessori education to 226 students from 171 families. Judy Townsend-Stallone began her new school year as Head of School and Jennifer Cook Cauble became Assistant Head of School.

2008: In February 2008 Darcie Patrick, former Head of School of Island Montessori Day School, accepted the position of Interim Head of School at Sea Pines Montessori Academy. In April the SPMA Board of Trustees offered Mrs. Patrick the position of Head and School and, with resounding community applause, Mrs. Patrick accepted. Dedicated to the principles of the International Montessori Council, Mrs. Patrick is helping SPMA find its way back to the roots and core values of an authentic Montessori education. Together with her team of Administrative and Classroom staff, Mrs. Patrick has focused solely on the commitment to Montessori education, environment and sense of family for all those associated with SPMA.

Darcie Patrick

June 2010: SPMA Head of School Darcie Patrick announced that Sea Pines Montessori Academy officially received its dual accreditation into the Southern Association of Independent Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. This came after 14 months of arduous work by staff, teachers, Board of Trustees and key volunteers to demonstrate SPMA’s credentials.

Adding these new distinctions to SPMA’s current accreditation by the International Montessori Council makes Sea Pines Montessori Academy the only school in the United States which boasts this unique tri-accreditation honor.

July 2012: After Darcie Patrick’s loving retirement, Melinda Cotter joins SPMA as new Head of School. Read her Head of School Welcome here.