School & District Management

R.I. Schools Chief Gist Makes Time 100 List

By Dakarai I. Aarons — April 29, 2010 1 min read
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Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island’s education commissioner, has made the 2010 Time 100 list. (Special hat tip to DFER’s Charlie Barone for linking to this in the Twitterverse.) The magazine prints the prestigious list each year of people it believes have the most effect on our world. This year’s list includes leaders such as President Barack Obama, and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Gist, who has been in her current job for not quite a year, is listed number 9 in its list of Thinkers, besting some better-known names, such as Apple CEO Steve Jobs (No. 11) and U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (No. 25).

The magazine praises Gist, 43, for her bold actions, including requiring annual teacher evaluations and creating the nation’s highest test-score threshold for those wishing to enter the state’s teacher training programs.

Of course, as Education Week readers know, Gist found more fame than she was perhaps expecting when she backed Central Falls, R.I., Superintendent Frances Gallo’s decision to dismiss all the teachers in that town’s sole high school, which has been low-performing for several years. Even President Obama got involved in the firestorm that ensued. In fact, the teacher’s union filed suit in federal court yesterday against Gist and Gallo, saying they conspired to violate teachers’ rights.

Gist is often credited with being the first state superintendent to put into place the Obama administration’s plans for turning around persistently underachieving schools.

Here’s a bit of what Gist told me about her philosophy during an interview for a March story on Central Falls:

I’ve been saying since I got to the state last summer that every decision I make will be about what is in the best interest of students. People would nod their head and agree, but that is harder in implementation than it is for us to agree to, especially when it starts affecting the adults in ways that are very difficult. That’s when it really tests our resolve about whether we are going to stick to that.

Time contributor Amanda Ripley says Gist is sticking to her guns.

So now Gist is caught in a familiar storm. But so far, she is navigating the tumult with grace -- talking about teachers with the respect that comes from having been one, while still putting students’ interests first,” Ripley wrote.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

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