Getting to Know AGP: A Conversation with Our Head of School

January 10, 2024

Head of School Allison Gaines Pell standing in front of the Wheeler main building in Providence and smiling at the camera.
Head of School Allison Gaines Pell

You may contact Allison Gaines Pell via email at or reach her at (401) 421-8100 ex. 2118.

As Wheeler’s Head of School, Allison Gaines Pell P’23, P’25–or AGP–works across every division and department and with all of the students, families, faculty, and staff on our city and farm campuses. We talked with AGP about what brings all of those people and experiences together into a distinctive learning community.

Q: How do you describe Wheeler?

A: Wheeler is a place of great ambition. From Nursery through 12th Grade, we strive for each student to become more fully themselves, driven by a myriad of experiences–classroom provocations, artistic endeavors, athletic challenges, and abiding relationships with one another and with our faculty–to learn their powers and be answerable for their use. This is a place of non-stop action, where something is bubbling in every corner. I love the energy of this place, as well as the compassion and respect we have for one another.

Allison Gaines Pell speaking to a Kindergarten student about their writing piece.
At Wheeler, learning our powers begins in our youngest grades

Q: When and why did you decide to join the Wheeler community? What has the experience been like for you?

A: I arrived at Wheeler in 2017, and Wheeler has only ever exceeded my expectations. It is a place of warmth, good humor, and deep commitment to children. I feel extremely lucky that my career led me here. While there were aspects of Wheeler I could see and understand from its reputation and from what I could see from afar, being here with the excellent leaders, the faculty and staff who encircle our students, has been more than I could have hoped for. Surfacing our mission statement – to learn our powers and be answerable for their use – has ensured that we are both reaching all the way back to our founder and into the future. It’s a great feeling to be doing this work in the context of a caring and committed community.

AGP posing with Lower School students on the first day of school.
AGP posing with Lower School students on the first day of school.

Q: You’ve referenced our mission statement, “to learn our powers and be answerable for their use,” a few times during our conversation. You also spoke about it when you first joined Wheeler, because it was Mary C. Wheeler’s educational vision. What are some of the ways that you see it, in action, at school?

A: I see it everyday! It’s the reason a student starts a neuroscience course, or why another student is inspired to make art for a cause that matters to them. It’s reflected in a personal essay, written by a Middle Schooler, that is featured in the New York Times. We hear it when a friend stands up for a classmate and when another classmate challenges someone’s idea during a thoughtful class discussion. It’s at the heart of an innovative program, created by a long-time faculty member, who wants to add something new and exciting to our curriculum, as well as the necessary work we’re doing to examine our equity practices. It’s why our founder dared to start a school for girls that rivaled (or exceeded) any school for boys of her day. We have always learned our powers at Wheeler, and we’ll always apply them, in so many different and needed ways, into the future.

AGP stopping by a Hamilton classroom with Hamilton Head of School Bill McCarthy and Senator Bridget Valverde.

Q: What do you do as Head of School? What are some of the things that you enjoy most about your role?

A: The best thing about my job is that no two days are ever alike. I work with Trustees, parents, community partners, Division Heads, and all types of faculty and staff members. I love to observe the school in action and feel the energy of a day in our collective life. I love to problem solve with other school leaders as they push every day to grow and improve our program and the student experience. I enjoy seeing our students laugh and learn together. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit with our faculty members who are doing a major inquiry dive into their current teaching practices and challenging themselves to grow. It was deeply inspiring and uplifting to see their thinking made visible and to be reminded of how lucky we all are to work with these colleagues.

AGP dressed as Where's Waldo posing with two other faculty members on Halloween morning.
AGP dressed as Where’s Waldo posing with two other faculty members on Halloween morning.

Q: You have two children who are both currently Upper School students. What is it like being a Wheeler parent/family?

A: My kids will probably be embarrassed to see this printed, but I love the impact that Wheeler has had on them. Five years into their Wheeler journey, they are more thoughtful, hard working, kind, and intellectual than before they began. While they are two very different people, they’ve found their individual paths, their own friendship communities, and their own academic interests. They care about Wheeler and their community, they are empathetic learners and advocates, and they speak proudly of the quality of their teachers and their education.

A picture of a chocolate lab retriever lying on the grass with a red and white soccer ball by its front paws. The dog is also wearing a purple Wheeler bandana.

Q: On occasion, another of your family members joins you at school–tell me about Willie!

A: Willie is my chocolate Labrador Retriever, and he is a very proud member of the Wheeler family. I have been advocating for a Dogs of Wheeler calendar! While he doesn’t get to visit as often as he’d like, Willie has some favorite dog lovers on campus that he likes to visit.

Q: Is there anything else about Wheeler–or your Wheeler experience–that you would like to add? Is there anything else that you would like prospective families, in particular, to know?

A: Wheeler is our community’s collective ambitions and aspirations. We come together every day on our campuses to learn about who we are and how we can use our skills and abilities to make the world a better place. These are choices with tremendous impact. When you join us, you become part of an enterprise that has purpose and passion and that benefits from the perspectives and contributions of everyone. We welcome you!

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