Gist’s Future Debated by RI Education Leaders

Friday, December 05, 2014


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Deborah Gist

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's future is still yet to be determined under Governor-elect Gina Raimondo, as Gist's current two year contract expires in June 2015 -- and education leaders are weighing in on her performance, and prospects moving forward. 

“I hope to continue to work in the best interest of Rhode Island students and to make our schools America’s best, and I would be honored to continue my service as a member of Governor Raimondo’s Cabinet," said Gist, who was originally hired in Rhode Island in 2009.  

Raimondo has announced a new face to Rhode Island in the way of her Chief of Staff, and has so far announced she is retaining current DEM Director Janet Coit, as well as Department of Corrections' AT Wall.  

SLIDES: Who Could Be the Next RI Education Commissioner BELOW

"By law, we can only do 3 year contracts," said Rhode Islan Board of Education Chair Eva Mancuso.  "With the current contract, the sentiment from Chafee was he didn't want to extend contracts past his tenure, and it didn't make sense to do a year a and a half.  That was his philosophy.  [Governor-elect] Raimondo might feel that 3 years works.  As chair, we know enough about Gist, that you either give her three years, or nothing.  There's no in-between."

Support, Suggestions

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Gist touts on the RIDE website that under her leadership, her accomplishments include "the first annual evaluations for all teachers and principal, accountability for schools based on student growth and closing achievement gaps, a statewide funding formula for education based on district capacity and student need, data systems to provide teachers with information at the student level and to provide the public with detailed information on school performance and education finance, and innovation powered by technology to transform education at the classroom level."

Christine Lopes Metcalf with education group RI-CAN spoke to what she saw as Gist's strengths -- and room for improvement.

"The Department of Education, with Commissioner Gist at the helm, has had several accomplishments that moved our state forward, including winning two different competitive Race to the Top Grants totaling $125 million dollars, implementing a statewide teacher evaluation system, releasing a new school classification system to inform the public on how our schools are performing, and expanding high-performing school options for families," said Metcalf-Lopes.  "Many of these accomplishments were possible due to Race to the Top and to the Commissioners emphasis on setting high expectations for all children regardless of where they live." 

Metcalf-Lopes, who said she hoped that Gist and Raimondo would be able to "work around a common vision," added, "With the significant amount of change across the state, there may have been opportunities to communicate more effectively with teachers, parents, and policymakers to ensure stronger consensus on issues."

Rhode Island Association of School Committees Executive Director Tim Duffy offered his support for Gist to stay on in the new administration.  "[Gist] shook up the system.  RI’s education system had been very complacent until her arrival," said Duffy.  Echoing Metcalf-Lopes, Duffy added, "She needs to be more attentive to the practitioners in the field, teachers, principals and superintendents."

Two union representatives -- Larry Purtil with the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) and Frank Flynn with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals - did not respond to request for comment on Gist's tenure on Thursday, or if they believe she should remain on as Commission -- or not.  

Questioning Spending

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"You can't do that kind of work if you don't have 100% from the person at the top," said the Board of Education's Mancuso.  "So they either want that or go in a different direction.  I'd say the same thing about me.  I'm a known commodity.  I'm open, direct, it may be too much, or it may be great.  We've all been around too long for any type of a rebirth.  What you see is what you get, and I think I've gained trust from people I've worked with. "

"Whether or not you can un-ring that bell back from Central Fall days, Providence days when teachers were fired, I can't tell you," continued Mancuso of Gist.   "I don't poll people, but from what I see she's got a better working relationship now than she's ever had with the teachers."

RIDE recently announced that 98% of its teachers evaluated received "highly-effective" or "effective" marks, but taxpayer groups are questioning the return-on-investment on education in the state.  

"There is no question that Rhode Island's education system has improved under Commissioner Gist's tenure.   We would certainly encourage Governor-Elect Gina Raimondo to permit Commissioner Gist to continue her good work," said Monique Chartier with the taxpayer advocacy group RI Taxpayers.  

"The larger question of education value for dollars spent is a different matter.  Rhode Island's K-12 education system has improved thanks to the work and focus of teachers, students, administrators and Commissioner Gist.  Nevertheless, Rhode Island ranks twenty seventh nationally for student achievement.  Contrast with teacher pay, which is the highest in the country, according to a Rasmussen analysis released last month," said Chartier.  "Looking right next door, student achievement in Massachusetts regularly ranks at or near the top.  Yet Massachusetts teacher pay is at best eighteenth highest, according to the same analysis by Rasmussen."

The Center for Freedom and Prosperity's Mike Stenhouse has been a strong proponent for both education reform -- and school school choice.  

"The government run educational system in Rhode Island continues to produce one of the worst "return on investments" in New England, ranking among the highest in taxpayer dollars spent, and among the lowest in achievement. Commissioner Gist's reform agenda was obviously blocked by Governor Chafee and it will be interesting to see if Governor Raimondo allows Rhode Island to get back on a reform course, as is happening in many other states throughout America," said Stenhouse.

"The result is that far too many Ocean State students and families are being under-served by a broken public school system. Until it's fixed, we must empower parents with expanded options to send their children to a school of their choice. This kind of reform costs nothing, and actually would mean more dollars spent on education in our state. Race to the Top funding and adherence to a federal agenda is not the answer. "



Related Slideshow: Who Could Be RI’s Next Education Commissioner?

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Clay Pell

The not-so-dark horse who might be in consideration for Gist's spot (or the Board of Education's Eva Mancuso's) could be Raimondo's primary opponent Clay Pell, who comes from the education policy world at the federal level -- he was Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of Education.

Given the millions Pell poured into his own campaign -- as well as how politics might have played out to give Gina the edge over opponent Allan Fung -- Pell might be well-positioned to maintain his profile in Rhode Island as he more than likely might be taking a look towards another run for higher offfice soon.

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Susan Lusi

Current Providence Schools Superintendent Susan Lusi has a resume that includes having been Superintendent in Portsmouth, Chief of Staff for the Providence Public Schools  -- and as Assistant Commissioner at the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  

Lusi has served as a consultant to RIDE, as well as groups such as the LAB at Brown, Education Resource Strategies, The Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Learning First Alliance.  Lusi has a Ph.D. and Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University, as well as a MAT in social studies and an AB in economics from Brown University.  Lusi could well be considered for the call up to the state's top education post.

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Tom Brady

Lusi's predecessor in the Providence Public Schoools Brady the helm in 2011 after serving for three years, and has worked in education consulting and served as Director of the Department of Defense Educational Activity, over seeing all Defense Department K-12 schools, both stateside and overseas -- 191 schools in 14 districts, serving more than 82,000 students.  A return to RI to fill Gist's shoes would be step up the education ladder in the state should Brady be in consideration -- and have the interest returning to RI.  

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Angela Romans

Providence Mayor Taveras' former education advisor, who has been at Brown's Annenberg Institute, while in the city helped secure over $5 million in education grant funding from local, regional and national public and private sources for the city and served as a tri-chair of the Mayor’s Children and Youth Cabinet (CYC).

Prior to working in city government, Romans served as New England Network manager at Diploma Plus, Inc., a Boston-based, national organization that in partnership with school districts and communities, designs schools and programs to improve the academic results of predominately urban, African-American and/or Hispanic youth.

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Dave Abbott

As the Deputy Commissioner at RIDE, Abbott has had to fill the shoes of Gist at meetings and events many times -- and could probably quite easily make the move up given his working knowledge of the office.

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Jennifer Wood

Lt. Governor Roberts' Chief of Staff has an extensive background -- and interest -- in education, serving as Chief of Staff and legal counsel for RIDE for 9 years, and general counsel for NEARI before that.  Roberts was an instrumental supporter of Raimondo's during the campaign.  


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