J.H.S. 74 Nathaniel Hawthorne
Strong academics with emphasis on arts and writing
No indoor place to play on rainy days
MS 74 is a large middle school boasting strong academics, high attendance rates and an impressive record of sending graduates to competitive high schools. As a neighborhood school that draws most of its students from local elementary schools, MS 74 attracts kids of all skill levels and strives to accommodate diverse needs. Each grade has "special progress" (SP) classes for high achievers, general education classes that cater to a range of abilities, and special education classes.
Anthony Armstrong, who had served as an assistant principal, took over as principal in September 2011. While maintaining much of the program he has focused on improving writing skills by encouraging writing in all classes and yes, he says, "grammar does count."
Armstrong also emphasizes teamwork and collaboration -- among the staff, between staff and students, and among students themselves -- as well as developing partnerships with organization that could bring increased resources to the school. It is "a culture of teamwork" that, one longtime teacher said, could make an already strong school even better.
Located near the Long Island Expressway, MS 74's large 1958 building underwent exterior renovations during the 2008-09 school year. Inside, the tone is calm. Classes are large, with more than 30 students in most, but the high numbers don't seem to impede instruction. Generally, students appear well-behaved and engaged.
Hallways get a bit hectic between periods, but kids keep moving. Armstrong has a relaxed attitude toward students, who casually approach him as he walks the hall. He quickly notices, though, when something is amiss -- a towel lying in the hall, a teacher who is late unlocking a classroom.
For the academic subjects, students are admitted to special progress classes on the basis of test scores and teacher recommendations. Scheduling limitations mean a student must be in special progress classes for all academic subjects or none. One student who was in general classes before being transferred to the special progress group said the advanced classes tend to be better. "The kids are more into the class, they're more sociable, they work more," he said.
Students in special progress classes take earth science and algebra in 8th grade, enabling them to take the Regents. In 8th grade English, one teacher has all her students read Lois Lowry's anti-utopian novel The Giver - but the advanced students also read Anthem, by Ayn Rand (the school got copies from the Ayn Rand Foundation) and compared the idea of community in the two books.
The groups mingle for arts classes, phys ed and lunch.
To ease the transition to middle school, 6th graders have the same teacher for English and social studies. This enables them to spend three periods a day with the same teacher.
Armstrong, a former music teacher, is particularly proud of the arts program, noting that a student who is not academically advanced may be proficient in the arts. All students select an art to study: band, chorus, dance and so on. Spanish is the only foreign language taught.
Fairly sophisticated facilities -- a graphic and design lab, a dance room with mirror and barre, band instruments and a grand piano - bolster instruction. The staff seems adept at getting grants to support some of this work but maintaining and updating the equipment poses a challenge. Along with grants, the school also has enlisted a number of partners for after school programs, arts and other offerings. A downside: There is no indoor space to play, so on rainy days children spend part of their lunch period in the auditorium.
About one third of graduates go on to specialized high schools. The school also encourages students to consider nearby alternatives, including Townsend Harris, Bayside and Cardozo, as well as arts schools.
Special education: The school offers Special Education Teacher Support Services, self-contained classes for students with special needs, and Collaborative Team classes, as well as classes for students with severe developmental disabilities.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. Admission to the gifted and talented programis based on a combination of factors that make up a "composite score"the final 4th grade report card counts for 35 percent, state tests 35 percent, student performance indicators 20 percent and attendance ten percent.(Gail Robinson, December 2011; admissions updated January 2015)