When Thomas Wilson Dorr, whose name is associated with revolution rather than with forward movements in education in which he was a leader, proposed creation of the office of superintendent of public schools, he had in mind an officer who would perform for the scattered schools in a town or city system much the same functions which are related to an overseer or superintendent in industry, whose major service is coordination. Dorr emphasized administration rather than pedagogy as the principal business of the new officer; in modern systems, comprehending millions of investment in school estates and thousands of dollars of expenditures for salaries, supplies and maintenance, the business functions of the superintendent increase in importance. A city which can find a good schoolman who is also an efficient administrator and whose training and knowledge extend into the fields of construction is fortunate indeed. A rare combination of excellent service qualities have made William Atwell Newell, Superintendent of Schools of Pawtucket, one of the best known in New England and his city proud of his achievements, which include in less than ten years as superintendent a complete reorganization of the city public school system, and the inauguration of a building program not surpassed by any city of similar size and resources in America.
William A. Newell was born in Pawtucket, February 18, 1869, son of William F. and Ann Newell. He was educated in the public schools of his native city, and on graduation from high school studied design and architecture at Pratt Institute. In 1893 he began teaching and was advanced rapidly as teacher and supervisor of art and industrial education. He was appointed as Superintendent of Schools in Pawtucket in 1922, and immediately undertook a reorganization of the public schools on the six-three-three plan, then so novel that few eastern cities had adopted it. To Superintendent Newell it appealed as at once an improvement agreeable to his purpose of modernizing the schools under his supervision and also as the most advantageous solution of the high school problem facing Pawtucket particularly because of large population and the post-war demand for broader educational opportunities. Plans for doubling the capacity of the city high school were underway, but Superintendent Newell foresaw a need for more accommodations. Developing his plans he proposed a new senior high school, use of the old high school as a junior high school, construction of a second junior high school westward to accommodate children in a then growing part of the city, and ultimately a third junior high school toward the extreme east side of the city. The junior high schools would relieve not only the senior high school, but also the elementary schools. Superintendent Newell had grasped also the economy of large school units in a modern system. The results appear in the finest senior high school building in New England and a physical equipment not surpassed in any city of the same size as Pawtucket. Superintendent Newell proceeded with the belief that its schools indicate the aspirations of a community. In recognition of his splendid service Rhode Island College of Education awarded him the honorary degree of Master of Education in 1928. Into the splendid new school buildings constructed under his direction in Pawtucket Superintendent Newell poured his skill in architecture; the buildings are beautiful, and afford maximum convenience. In equipment and apparatus they reflect the most modern principles of educational procedure. Into the organization of secondary education he directed the results of years of careful study of the new system, including his own ideas as to the possibilities of improving what he had seen elsewhere.
Superintendent Newell has other interests than schools. He is a member of the Pawtucket Business Men’s Association, of the Rotary Club, and a Mason, with membership in Blue Lodge, Royal Arch, Royal and Select Masters, Knights Templar, and Shrine. He is a member of the Baptist denomination. He married Minda L. Brown, deceased, and Ruth J. Kent. His daughter, Minda Brown Newell, married Jerome H. Sherzer. Superintendent Newell is active, enthusiastic, and progressive, maintaining the appearance of youth and persuasive energy, and inspiring his associates and his teachers with his own ideals in education.
Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.