Policy Brief

Big-Name Crowd Lends Gist Support

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Rhode Island schools chief Deborah A. Gist has a fan in Jeb Bush. And Andrés Alonso. And Eli Broad. And apparently, many, many others.

That much is clear from a campaign organized by a group called the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now, or RI-CAN, which has penned a letter asking the state’s governor to keep Ms. Gist on the job and keep the basic composition of the state’s board of regents, which appoints her.

The group recruited about 50 signatories, including the aforementioned former Florida governor, Baltimore schools chief executive officer, and philanthropist.

The letter to Rhode Island’s new governor, Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, argues that Ms. Gist and current members of the state board have been instrumental in making positive changes in schools, which helped the state win a $75 million grant in the federal Race to the Top competition. RI-CAN believes keeping Ms. Gist and the board is a good way to ensure that the state fulfills the plan’s goals, explained the group’s executive director, Maryellen Butke.

“The current team has proved to be a winning one, scoring substantial victories on behalf of Rhode Island schoolchildren,” reads the Jan. 25 letter. “They must continue to have real impact.”

The Rhode Island group is not necessarily arguing that all the members of the current board stay in place, Ms. Butke said. But it’s hoping that any new ones Gov. Chafee appoints are committed to the goals in the state’s Race to the Top plan.

Others signing the letter included New Jersey’s acting schools chief, Christopher Cerf; former Arizona state schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan; and former New York City schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

Ms. Gist has won praise from some for her efforts to raise teacher qualifications in her state. She’s also made some controversial calls, like backing the firing of teachers at Central Falls High School, a persistently low-performing school, as federal law allowed. The teachers were later rehired.

Mr. Chafee's office declined to comment in detail on the letter, saying only that governor looks forward to working with RI-CAN and other stakeholders in pursuit of quality education for the children of Rhode Island.

Vol. 30, Issue 19, Page 16

Published in Print: February 2, 2011, as Big-Name Crowd Lends Gist Support
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