Gist will consult in Tulsa while finishing job in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – She’s still Rhode Island’s education commissioner, but Deborah Gist will also work as consultant for the school department in Tulsa, Okla. until she begins her job as school superintendent in that city July 1.

Gist will be paid $775 for each day she works as a consultant in Tulsa. Her contract with the state, which expires June 30, allows her to “use vacation or personal days for any time that she spends consulting in Tulsa during the interim before the selection of a new commissioner in Rhode Island,” according to Kimberly Bright, Gist’s chief of staff.

“Governor Raimondo and the Rhode Island Board of Education are working now on the process of selecting a new commissioner, and it is possible that the transition will take place before Commissioner Gist begins her work in Tulsa,” Bright said in a statement.

The consulting contract in Tulsa was first reported by the Tulsa World. The report said Gist will also be reimbursed for travel expenses.

Gist is still negotiating a contract to officially become Tulsa’s superintendent, but she has said she has every intention of accepting the position. The city’s school board nominated her for the job Feb. 2.

Gist, who attended Tulsa public schools for kindergarten through 12th grade before earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma, was one of two finalists in the search to replace retiring Superintendent Keith Ballard, but the other candidate pulled out of the search process in January.

Gist, who holds master’s degrees from the University of South Florida and Harvard as well as a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, came to Rhode Island in 2009 after serving as the state superintendent of education in Washington, D.C.

Within a year of coming Rhode Island, Gist was recognized by Time magazine as one of the “100 most influential people in the world” for her work to overhaul the teacher evaluation system. She earned praise from education reformers for lobbying the General Assembly to lift the state cap on charter schools and helping Rhode Island become one of the final states in the country to implement a school funding formula.

At the same, Gist has drawn the ire of Rhode Island’s teachers’ unions, who have opposed most of her signature initiatives and blamed her for low teacher morale. In 2013, shortly before she was given a two-year contract extension, the unions released a poll that showed 85% of teachers did not want her to remain in the job.

Last year, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation to scale back the frequency of teacher evaluations for most teachers and to delay the use of standardized testing as part of the state’s high school graduation requirements. Gist opposed both measures, saying she was concerned “we’ve lost our sense of urgency” when it comes to improving schools.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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