Dan Miller, head of the Wheeler School for the past 14 years, will graduate this month along with his youngest child. As the seventh head since the school’s founding in 1889, Dan has made quite a few visible improvements during his tenure. He led two capital campaigns that raised over $40 million and completed a ten-year master plan that resulted in three new buildings, 96,000 square feet of additional renovation and a complete redesign of all outdoor spaces on the campus, both on the East Side and at the school’s farm campus in Seekonk.
Dan has also helped the school to grow financially. Under his leadership, Wheeler’s endowment grew from $5 million to nearly $36 million. Over the years, there has been a significant increase in faculty salaries, and need-based scholarships have tripled from $1.3 million to almost $4 million annually.
The student body has also changed while Dan has been head of school. As he says, “The school has continued to evolve to better reflect the broader diversity in the state and region – socioeconomically, culturally, geographically, in almost every dimension – and that has made it a much stronger community.” In fact, since 2003, the percentage of non-white students at Wheeler has increased from 11% to 28%.
Joan Kwiatkowski, parent of a Wheeler alumnus, has another perspective on Dan’s commitment to diverse learners at Wheeler: “He viewed Hamilton School as an asset, whose students remind the Wheeler community that brilliance shines in different ways.” Hamilton, a school-within-a-school founded in 1988, serves students in grades 1–8 with language-based learning differences. It provides small classes for instruction while integrating students into the larger Wheeler community for non-academic pursuits.
During Dan’s tenure, Wheeler also hosted Breakthrough Providence, a summer program designed to create a pathway to college for low-income, academically motivated middle school students in the Providence public school system. The program also encourages talented high school and college students to pursue careers in education.
On his very first visit to Wheeler, Dan “was struck by the energy, talent, and sense of optimism of the community and, 14 years later, those are still Wheeler’s most salient features to me.” In fact, he told eighth graders Ronnie Parrillo and Connor Cruz on their RonCon radio show that those elements are the things he will miss most about Wheeler.
What will he miss least? “People complaining about the parking!” After all, as the school encompasses a city block, parking is at a premium for Wheeler’s faculty, staff, parents and students.
Dan stresses that “the strides the School has made are just part of a continuum of progress that stretches back and will certainly continue with my talented successor. I have had the privilege to work on the School’s behalf with a very experienced, talented team and with an extraordinary faculty and staff.”
One thing many people mention when asked what they will remember most about Dan is his talent for public speaking. Parent Donna Goldin, whose daughter is graduating this month, exclaimed, “Hearing Dan speak is always such a pleasure. He has such a natural way of speaking in front of a crowd and mixes humor with take-home messages… I’ve also been amazed at the way he handles the most delicate situations. He has a way of addressing things head-on but with great tact.”
Dan and his wife Joanna are not sure what they’ll do next. As new empty nesters, they’ve decided to take a few months before making any decisions. One thing Dan is excited for, but also a bit nervous about, is his new yearly schedule; after all, he says, “I have been going to school every September since I was four years old.” In the meantime, he has been planning for after his departure with the incoming head of school, Allison Gaines Pell, and will continue working with her over the next few weeks until her official start date of July 1.
The school is hosting a celebration honoring the Millers at the Wheeler Farm on June 2. Dan has enjoyed his time in Rhode Island, which he believes has “a tremendous range of talent and interests compressed in a small community. Personally, I find the population density both productive and supportive. In that way, Wheeler is a microcosm of the state.” Obviously, the community will miss Dan Miller as much as he will miss us, and we wish him all the best as he moves on to his next chapter.