Mott Hall II
MANHATTAN NY 10025 Map
Mott Hall II
Mott Hall II is a small, well-regarded Upper West Side middle school known for its nurturing attitude and diverse student population. The 300-plus students here receive a rigorous education in an environment that favors hands-on learning. The school’s historic building has its drawbacks (the top-floor gym is better suited for an attic than athletics), but students here genuinely seem to appreciate their teachers and enjoy their school.
The school favors the “whole child” philosophy said Principal Ana Tornatore, who has been at Mott Hall since its founding in 2001. The aim is to produce graduates who “are not just competent workers but competent, good people,” Tornatore said.
Mott Hall II was the first clone of Harlem’s pioneering Mott Hall School. It shares the landmark Robert E. Simon Educational Complex with PS/MS 165, a pre-K–8 school. Most Mott Hall II classrooms are on the fourth floor of the historic building, which features soaring ceilings, ample natural light and asphalt-coated outdoor play areas—as well as meandering narrow halls, ancient steam radiators, obtrusive support columns, no athletic fields and other architectural quirks.
Modern projection screens and dry-erase boards have replaced dusty chalkboards, science labs have been implemented (two are mobile) but the school lacks a computer lab (shared laptops are rolled in via cart), and a new library/media center is still on the drawing board.
While students and parents seem to be very pleased with the learning experience, teacher satisfaction has diminished somewhat, especially in regards to staff communication. In the most recent Learning Environment Survey, 42 percent of teachers did not feel that the principal communicates a clear vision for the school.
Those quibbles aside, Mott Hall II is often viewed as an undiscovered gem in District 3. The school earned “A” grades on its past four DOE report cards, and student test scores are respectable (particularly in math). On our visit we saw rooms full of students actively engaged in their projects. Some kids were learning ratios and proportions by calculating the changing sizes of Alice as she traveled through Wonderland. Others were enlarging a scale blueprint of Disney’s “It’s a Small World” amusement ride. Literary discussions included debating whether characters in S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders died happy.
Core subjects are taught at an accelerated pace (typically one year above grade level) in a project-based environment where teachers often lecture for no more than 15 minutes before students begin hands-on tasks. Sixth graders are assigned to one of four classes, which travel as a group to different rooms. This practice makes the transition to middle school less intimidating, and it also allows students with special needs to more easily be included in mainstream studies within team-teaching classes. The sixth-grade curriculum has a heavy focus on math/science and humanities but also includes Spanish. Electives expand in seventh and eighth grade, but some courses such as French and instrumental music are offered only through the school’s extensive menu of after-school programs (which also includes science and business classes).
Eighth graders can enroll in advanced biology and math courses that allow them to take the math and science Regents exams. They also take Living Environment rather than Earth Science, which allows them to take chemistry in ninth grade. Homework averages about one-and-a-half hours every weeknight, administrators say. Mott Hall II also has advisory classes and competent counselors offering guidance. Students we spoke to said they liked their teachers and praised the faculty’s caring attitudes. “If you have outside problems, you can talk to them,” one eighth-grade girl said.
About half of Mott Hall II graduates each year go on to attend screened high schools such as Beacon, Millennium and Eleanor Roosevelt, and about 12 to 15 percent land at exam schools such as Stuyvesant or Bronx Science. Another 15 percent are accepted to private schools.
Special education: Students with special needs are assigned to team-teaching classes in which special ed and general ed students learn together with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. Mott Hall II also has a self-contained 12:1:1 class.
Admissions: Mott Hall II is a screened middle school open to students who live in or attend elementary school in District 3. Students need to score 3s or 4s on 4th-grade ELA and math tests, and should list Mott Hall II as their first choice. Applicants also must submit an essay and participate in an interview. Teacher recommendations also are considered. (Skip Card, December 2012)