R.I. state Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has confirmed that she is a finalist for the Superintendent of Schools post in her home city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gist's statement came after the Tulsa World newspaper reported that she is a finalist for the post.
``I am enthusiastic about where we are with our efforts to improve Rhode Island’s education system and am extremely confident in Gov. Raimondo’s leadership,’’ Gist said in a statement released several minutes ago. ``I have enjoyed numerous conversation with the governor and her team and my relationship with the Board of Education is strong.’’
``At the same time, I was asked to enter the search for Tulsa superintendent, and that was too exciting of an opportunity to forgo,’’ Gist said. ``Our team at the R.I. Department of Education is incredible, and our work with the new five-year strategic plan is exciting. So I consider this new opportunity with mixed emotions. I will keep Rhode Islanders informed if there are any further developments regarding this potential career opportunity,’’ said Gist.
Gist has been a polarizing figure and there is no love lost between her and Rhode Island’s two largest teacher unions, the R.I. Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, Rhode Island. The same unions also don’t like Raimondo. Gist, is, however, popular with the self-styled education reform community in the state and those who advocate charter schools, stronger teacher evaluation and high-stakes testing regimes.
A departure by Gist would be a political boon for Raimondo; it would allow the new governor to appoint her own choice and remove the political hot potato that Gist has become. The state education board recently allowed a six-month deadline to pass notifying Gist that her contract would be renewed., but Raimondo has the option of seeking a renewal, which was first reported here at R.I. Public Radio by Elisabeth Harrison, education reporter. A vacancy at the commissioner level would allow Raimondo to duck a prickly debate about Gist’s future in Rhode Island as well as giving the state ed department a fresh start.