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Mission Statement and History

Our Mission

Mizzentop Day School, an independent school for students in early childhood through Grade 8, provides a stimulating and innovative educational program dedicated to building a supportive community through living values and instilling a love of learning in our students.

Our Philosophy

To be well prepared socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually, children must be nurtured in an environment that places emphasis on the whole child. MDS offers a challenging program that focuses on each child’s personal development and learning styles. We help students learn, and we guide them toward independence and self- confidence in a nurturing, secure, and structured environment.

A strong foundation in reading, writing, and mathematics prepares each child for an increasingly rigorous curriculum in the future. Children are taught according to developmental needs and in the style that best suits them. Small classes allow students to discover and build on personal strengths using a highly integrated curricular approach. Hands-on projects fully engage students, and classrooms vibrate with the activities of curious children. Children are encouraged to speak up, ask questions, and contribute in all areas of their educational day at our private day school in Pawling, NY. Learning from their teachers and from each other, students work together making connections and finding solutions to problems.

MDS views childhood as a journey that is enhanced in a positive and caring learning experience. We stress the importance of building community by establishing routines, procedures, and attitudes that foster trust among the students and teachers. We treat and talk with each other in ways that model respect.

Guiding Principles

A Special Tribute to our Founders

In 1996 Lisa Daniels, a former elementary school teacher, opened the Pawling Learning Center servicing the needs of children by offering enrichment and tutoring classes.  A random conversation at the learning center with a parent asked, “why don’t you open a private school?”  With the support of her husband Charlie, Lisa spent the next year meeting with prospective parents, writing a curriculum that included at the time ground breaking education principals which focused on the individual learning styles of each student, recruiting teachers and volunteer board members who shared her vision, and most importantly finding a location for the school. 

The inaugural board of trustees in concert with Lisa established Mizzentop’s mission as a child centered approach to education offered to all children whose families valued a private education.

In the fall of 1998, the congregation of Christ Church on Quaker Hill graciously permitted the school to open in the newly renovated Francis Ryan Thomas Center which included a number of classrooms for Sunday school which previously was the site of Mizzentop Hotel.  The school opened with an enrollment of 47 students covering Pre-K3 through 1st grade.  In the ensuing three years the school added more students quickly outgrowing the small number of class rooms at Thomas Center.

In 2001 Ross Daniels, Lisa’s father in law, and Ted Nace, Head of Ministries for Guideposts came to the school’s rescue by helping to secure a lease of a significant portion of the former Peale Center for Christian Living’s facilities in the Village of Pawling. The generosity of Guideposts and the Peale family to provide such a perfect new home for the school is to this day one of the crucial factors of our then survival and now success.

In 2002 under the volunteer leadership of many of our founding parents, including Jamie Piccone who led the renovation project, Mizzentop opened our doors with 100 students including our newly added 6th grade.

In 2003 the “Living Values” program was introduced to the school by two inspirational teachers.  The program promotes seven core values which are integrated with the curriculum at each grade level.  A value based learning approach to education became the cornerstone of the education at Mizzentop Day School.  Children would learn to be responsible citizens, be honest, live simplistically, and cooperate with all they came in contact with – in and out of school.

Lisa retired in 2008 having made a lifetime impact on the Community of Pawling, hundreds of parents, and their children.

Our History

Hundreds of students have benefited thanks to the initiative of Mizzentop Day School’s Founding Head, Lisa Daniels. She, along with a dedicated group of supporters, founded MDS as a small, independent secular preschool on Quaker Hill in Pawling in 1998. It was a new chapter in the history of education in Pawling and its surrounding communities. We answered a community need for individually tailored learning for preschool through elementary students, and a before and after school program.

Our program grew to include art, music, drama, computer, physical education, foreign language, plays, overnight field trips,  and a Middle School. We quickly outgrew our first campus and in 2002, we moved to our current location in what was then the Norman Vincent Peale Center for Positive Thinking in the heart of Pawling, New York.  In the 2022-23 academic year, Mizzentop expanded the campus, with Karin Shultz as Head of School,  to include a separate middle school wing as well as a special areas wing for art, music, technology, and PE. 

Throughout the years, our graduates have been accepted to secondary schools such as Loomis Chaffee, The Hotchkiss School, Trinity-Pawling, The Frederick Gunn School, Fordham Preparatory School, Suffield Academy, Berkshire School,  and Canterbury School.


Upon the 20th Anniversary of Mizzentop, the School's front lobby was dedicated to our founders.


Contrary to some of the theories we’ve heard over the years, the name Mizzentop comes from the nautical term “mizzen”. “Mizzen” is used to describe the sail, mast and platform located towards the stern of the ship. This portion of the ship is often used to determine the course of the ship.

In 1881, long before the construction of Christ Church on Quaker Hill, Albert Akin constructed the beautiful Mizzentop Hotel. The 165-room hotel operated for over 50 years, serving railriders and vacationers from New York City. Admiral John Lorimer Worden, commander of the Civil War ship “Monitor” named the hotel for its spectacular view of the Harlem Valley and Catskill Mountains.

When we opened in the Lowell Thomas Center, at Christ Church on Quaker Hill, we felt it most appropriate to name the school Mizzentop as a tribute to our home and to define us as a guiding force in education.