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Gist Quits District for Rhode Island

D.C. State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist has resigned to become Rhode Island's top education officer. Sources said this morning that her appointment as Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to be announced in Providence tomorrow.

Sources also said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty will name her successor, former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Kerri L. Briggs, as early as this afternoon. Briggs joined the staff of deputy mayor for education Victor Reinoso several weeks ago.

The departure of Gist, a holdover from former Mayor Anthony Williams' administration, has been rumored for months. Appointed by Williams in 2004 to run the District's small state education office, she became state superintendent when Fenty assumed control of the public school system.

While her agency took on increased responsibilities for special education, charter schools and compliance with federal laws, her influence was limited by her peculiar status under the terms of the mayoral takeover in which she was, in effect, a state superintendent without a state. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, a Fenty appointee, has been the dominant force in school reform. On the District's organizational chart, Gist actually reported to Reinoso.

At one point she asserted that she had authority over Rhee's plans to restructure the management of schools deemed to be failing under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, but she was later overruled by District lawyers. Last year, she was forbidden by Fenty to discuss teacher certification policy with a Post reporter.

A former Fort Worth elementary school teacher and senior policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, Gist repeatedly deflected questions about her tenure but gave every indication that she was looking for the exit sign. She recently graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy, a 10-month management training program for urban education leaders. Her name has surfaced in several national searches for school chiefs, including posts in St. Louis and Delaware.

"I'm sad. It's a big loss," D.C. State School Board of Education president Lisa Raymond said this morning. "I don't want to say she was wasted here, but she will have a tremendous impact in Rhode Island because the state superintendent's role there is very powerful."

She emerged from a field of nearly three-dozen candidates to win appointment from the Rhode Island's State Board of Regents. Gist will replace the retiring Peter McWalters on July 1.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  April 1, 2009; 10:54 AM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Comments

"I don't want to say she was wasted here ..." but she WAS wasted here. Let's just hope this smart woman's hands aren't tied in Rhode Island the way they were here in DC. Let's also hope that this starts a dialogue as to why Rhee and Fenty have stood so strongly against the type of oversight from the "state" to which every other urban school district in the country is accountable.

Posted by: smilesmile123 | April 1, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I wish this was an April Fool's joke...because we must be FOOL'S to let this wonderful smart as hell lady go. I wish nothing but the best, even though I wish she would stay!

Posted by: cherita_whiting@yahoo.com | April 1, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

It was just yesterday that Fenty said "Get rid of the school board. Just do it. They have no purpose anymore,"

The new lady getting the job must be really upset. Or maybe she knows very well she's just a mouthpiece for Fenty and feels lucky to have a job, after losing her patronage position at the Dept of Ed after Bush left.

Posted by: efavorite | April 1, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Deboarah will be missed, she brings great talent and expertise to the job and government. We surely know how to let the good ones go.

Posted by: stopplayingwithus | April 1, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Deborah Gist is a competent, inspiring, and astute Chief State School Office. Her leaving is a loss to the District. Don't be so hard on Kerri Briggs, though. Briggs is also very competent and has extremely deep knowledge regarding federal education programs. She is uniquely poised to help get the District out of corrective action with ED. She's smart, hard-working, and non-nonsense. She's no political dilettante.

Posted by: terpteacher1 | April 1, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I don't know the new person at all. She might be great and I haven't implied otherwise.

But getting the job the day after your boss says your position is irrelevant is not a good sign for any employee, irrespective of their strong qualifications or good intentions.

Posted by: efavorite | April 1, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I am a former employee of the OSSE, an educator, AND a parent of two middle school daughters who have been educated in a variety of school settings here in the District. While I wish Ms. Gist all the best in her new endeavors in Rhode Island, I for one am not sorry to see Ms. Gist move on to greener pastures and welcome Ms. Briggs coming into the role. Ms. Briggs' work at the Department of Education was excellent, and I believe she comes into this role fully prepared to understand how a new State Education Agency should be structured, staffed, and run. I believe Ms. Gist's talents -- as so many of you have raved about -- will be better utilized in a state where the SEA is NOT on high risk for federal grants management and a structure ALREADY exists (no merging of agencies here!). With this new changing of the guard at OSSE, I am optimistic again about the potential impact OSSE can have on the educational landscape of the District. Yes, our political system makes it difficult to distinguish the clear roles of the Deputy Mayor of Education, the State Superintendent of Education, and the Chancellor, but I believe Ms. Briggs is up for the challenge and comes with a skill set and knowledge of SEA functions that Ms. Gist learned a little too late in this game. I am a believer again that our DC children, families, and residents can receive the education they deserve. Ms. Briggs, please don't disappoint!

Posted by: AshakiGoodall | April 1, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

It a shame that we have people in places that has the authority to hire, but they are so inferior of others that they will sit on that person to keep her down. As you can tell I am talking about you Mayor, who does not know anything about schools.We need to get the schools from under the Mayor control.Washington School District need people like the one you are losing.

Posted by: wlburnett050 | April 1, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

@ AshakiGoodall -

Your assertion that Ms. Gist's skill set was developed "too late in this game" is a completely inaccurate portrayal of the woman and the political minefield she's been forced into. In fact, I would go so far as to assert that Ms. Gist's problem is actually that she knows EXACTLY what SEA functions should be (ideally and legally).

Of course, that isn't to say Ms. Briggs is not up to the challenge. I pray she is. But that's not the issue. The issue is whether she'll be allowed to tackle the real problems and assert the proper control of the SEA.

Posted by: smilesmile123 | April 1, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

In her short tenure I have seen her stock rise and what was a stumbling block for her only made her the gibraltor for another school system. Yet, as in life certain things comes in three...therefore you have Gist as one, Rhee might be two and Reinoso is number three who just might leave...if it does happen you will have accomplished all of EEO statistics in education. How ironic as April is the month many our high-school students anxiously awaits acceptance letters...here we are in the same month anxiously awaiting resignation letters from some in education.

Posted by: PowerandPride | April 1, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I just watched Fox5 news. They announced Kerri Briggs as Ms. Rhee's new boss! You can imagine Rhee's claws coming out aleady. But the mayor then made it clear that Rhee runs DC schools and the State Supt is in charge of standards,teacher certification, charter schools etc. I didn't hear him say who she reports to. My guess is that the set up is still the same. Therefore, I wish Deborah Gist all the success and thanks for bailing us out with the feds when money had to be retuned due to overspending by Rhee. As for Briggs, I wish her well.

Posted by: candycane1 | April 1, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

It is so child like and silly for the Mayor, any Mayor, to verbally assault an existing elected entity in the city wherein they preside. Particularly, when that body posed no particular threat to their power or authority.

That the Mayor said of an elected body "Get rid of the school board. Just do it. They have no purpose anymore" says precisely why they are needed. Without them, egomania would rule the day. And we are not talking ego with substantive experience or the smarts to get it.

I really believe that if the general public would take the time to look at how their government is really working in the District, not through the spoken word of the executive or longtime Council persons but through an analysis of the quality of actual goods and services, they would fall to their behinds and gasp, WOW!!! I never knew it was that bad.

Nonetheless, the lethargy of the public does not overrule the pitiful management the District finds itself in. From the Executive Office of the Mayor (THE Mayor) and the Council of the District of Columbia. We have a cut and paste administration that is patching itself together as it goes along. No major decision is made with the public interest first and foremost. There is always a catch, and the receiver is usually a special interest business.

The District electorate is well warned to carefully contemplate their vote in 2010, 4 more years of Fenty, will be like 8 years of George W. Bush. Republicans do not have the monopoly on incompetance.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | April 1, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Robert Bobb (Hopefully the District's next Mayor) is setting up Detroit's corrupt school officials with a date in jail.

Read on:

http://www.freep.com/article/20090331/COL10/903310372/1003/NEWS01/Bobb+looks+to+teach+DPS+a+lesson+about+corruption

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | April 1, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

concernedaboutdc - do you think Robert Bobb is DC Obama?

Posted by: efavorite | April 1, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

concernedaboutdc - do you think Robert Bobb is DC Obama?

Posted by: efavorite | April 1, 2009 10:30 PM
____________________________________________

I just think that Robert Bobb, who is the longest serving African American city manager in the nation, would present the best alternative to Adrian Fenty and he has name recognition and a proven track record in the District. Bobb does what Fenty only promises to do.

If you take a look at the article referenced in my comment, you will also find that he is building a reputation as a corruption buster in Detroit Public Schools. At the end of the Fenty regime, I believe that reputation may well carry him over in the 2010 election. We have yet to see the nature and extent of corruption in the Fenty Administration. But as the saying goes, what is done in the dark will come to light.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | April 2, 2009 7:36 AM | Report abuse

concernedaboutdc - hope you're right. read the article - sounds good.

Of course, after the Rhee/Fenty debacle, I'll be cautious about anyone entering the fray. At least I think I've learned how to distinguish between hopeful, but practical and intelligent Obama-like rhetoric and hopeful but #$%!&* Fenty/Rhee rhetoric

Posted by: efavorite | April 2, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

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