Metro, University News

Alum named head of Wheeler School

Alison Gaines Pell ’96 returns to Providence after founding nonprofit, school in New York

Staff Writer
Friday, October 28, 2016

While a student at Brown, Pell ’96 concentrated in English. She will lead the number-one private school in the state starting in July 2017.

Allison Gaines Pell ’96 will take the helm at The Wheeler School as its next Head of School, Wheeler announced Oct. 14. Pell’s path back to Providence — which includes giving back to her childhood neighborhood through work, obtaining a master’s degree at Harvard to advance her career and founding an education-sector nonprofit as well as a school — embodies some of the most ambitious work alums do for the greater good post-graduation.

Just an eight-minute walk from Faunce Arch, the Wheeler School is rated by Niche, a website that ranks and reviews schools, as the number-one private high school in Rhode Island and enrolls over 800 students from nursery age through high school.

Pell will assume the position as head of school in July 2017 after current headmaster Dan Miller steps down. According to an announcement released by the school, Miller is departing after his youngest child graduates in Wheeler’s high school class of 2017.

At Brown, Pell concentrated in English. She took several classes in the department of modern culture and media and was involved in the theater program.

Pell was already interested in education by the time she came to Brown. As her freshman year started, “I was able to think deeply about the kind of education experience I wanted to have,” Pell said.

Immediately after graduating, Pell went on to teach at the high school she had attended in Brooklyn, New York. After several years there, she decided to pursue education at a more systemic level and learn about school leadership. Pell enrolled in a yearlong program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and received a master’s degree in school leadership and development.

She went on to help found a nonprofit called New Leaders for New Schools, which aims to support principals at urban schools. The team put together a business plan and submitted it to a competition hosted by the Harvard Business School. The plan made it to the semifinals, making it the first nonprofit business plan in the history of the competition to make it that far in the competition.

After working in various educational nonprofits for four more years, Pell decided she wanted to start a small school herself. After putting a team together and recruiting teachers and students, Pell founded a public school in Brooklyn called Arts & Letters. The school began with 80 sixth graders, but from 2005 to 2012, Pell expanded the school, enrolling over 500 students from kindergarten to the eighth grade. “The whole thing was a great experience,” Pell said.

Pell’s next role in education took her to the Blue School in the lower part of Manhattan. Since 2012, Pell has helped the school grow by spearheading its first long-term strategic plan and the addition of a middle school to a program that previously ended with fifth grade.

Pell said she is looking forward to moving back to Providence and being close to Brown after more than a decade away.

“Brown really empowered me to be that kind of person who could take those risks and have the courage to start a school where there had been nothing there before,” Pell said. “Brown gave me a sense that I could put these ideas into action,” she added.

Professionally, she said she is excited to work with a community committed to the ideals and experiences of the Wheeler School.

“I’m really looking forward to investing and being a steward of an institution that I have so much respect for,” Pell said.

“She is an experienced and very successful school leader and will bring extraordinary energy, intellect and idealism to Wheeler,” Miller said, adding that she has high expectations for Pell. “We are thrilled she will be joining us.”