Deborah Gist has been announced as the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Public Schools Board of Education’s unanimous pick for district superintendent, making her the first woman to lead TPS.
Gist had become the single finalist for the position on Friday after a former deputy superintendent with Tulsa schools dropped out.
However, the decision is already being met with criticism. As each board member publicly made their support for Gist known, over a dozen teachers left the room in protest before the final vote, “because the voice of the teachers was ignored and we couldn’t stand to listen to the board congratulate themselves for ‘listening’ to our concerns,” said Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association President Patti Ferguson-Palmer.
“We’ve been mostly an afterthought, if any thought at all,” Margaret Tonquest, a Spanish teacher at Rogers Early College Junior High and High School, said. “In the past, teachers have been a part of the interview process and have had a seat at the decision table.”
While Gist has earned recognition on a national level for her education reforms, she has been under fire in Rhode Island due to her support of high-stakes testing, test-based teacher evaluations and charter schools, writes Linda Borg for The Providence Journal.
In addition, teachers and administrators feel Gist is inaccessible, although she has repeatedly denied those claims.
After the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education did not discuss a contract renewal with Gist this past December, many took it as a sign that her contract would be allowed to expire this June.
After the vote, Gist issued a statement that said, “This was a difficult decision for me… . I love this state and the people I’ve come to know and I am very excited about the opportunities that lie before us… . Nevertheless, inspired by the great work we’ve done, I welcome the opportunity to lead an urban school district — in particular the district in the city where I was raised and where my family resides.”
Despite all the criticism, Gist has worked hard to transform education in Rhode Island. After being hired in 2009, Gist helped the state win a highly competitive Race to the Top grant that would become the first of two that would bring the state $75 million in federal funds.
She has also introduced a new teacher evaluation system that ties a teacher’s status to student performance. She has stood in support of charter schools while insisting that they be held to a higher standard.
In addition, she added a consistent funding formula rather than continue with the one that left school districts wondering how much they would be receiving from the General Assembly each spring.
Gist also introduced tougher requirements for high school graduation, which also brought criticism from teachers, unions, community leaders and students. The requirement was ultimately pushed back by the General Assembly until 2017.
According to Patrick Guida, chairman of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, Gist has continuously raised the bar on student achievement in the state.
The Tulsa school district enrolls about 42,000 students and employs 7,000 staff members.