Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Rhode Island Department of Education
When she was 13, Deborah Gist knew she wanted to be a teacher. Sure enough, she began her career in education as an elementary school teacher. She spent nearly a decade teaching in Ft. Worth, Texas and Tampa, Fla., and was honored by her colleagues as “Teacher of the Year” at both of her schools.
Today, Gist is Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Rhode Island Department of Education – but she is still a teacher at heart. “I know how hard it is to be a great teacher. It’s the most wonderful job in the world,” says Gist.
A Commitment to Public Education
Growing up in Tulsa, Okla., Gist is the granddaughter of teachers, and attended Tulsa Public Schools. After spending over a decade working directly in schools, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked as a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Education, and was later appointed to run the mayor’s education office. Gist then served as the first State Superintendent of Education in the District of Columbia before becoming commissioner in Rhode Island.
Her experience in the classroom continues to drive her work. When she started her role as commissioner, Gist promised to put children first. “She understands that children get one chance and that we can’t wait for 10 or 15 years,” notes U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. “What impresses me most is her courage to tackle tough issues and her sense of urgency.”
Better Evaluations | Better Effectiveness
One of Gist’s priorities is a new teacher evaluation system. She recognizes that children need a quality teacher to help them raise their achievement significantly. “An effective evaluation system is key to developing, supporting, and improving the effectiveness of our educators, as well as recognizing the outstanding performance of our most effective teachers and leaders,” says Gist.
She works hard to engage teachers and district leaders in the process. In January 2012, the National Council on Teacher Quality ranked Rhode Island 2nd in the country in the quality of its policies on the teaching profession, highlighting progress on teacher evaluations, preparation programs and effectiveness.
“I believe the single most important factor in the education of our students is the effectiveness of the classroom teacher. Teachers are the solution, not the problem. We must do everything we can to support our teachers – to bring in the very best, to keep the very best, and to help them to be successful.”
Gist Prioritizes Teachers' Needs
Photo by Christopher Morris
Elementary School Teacher
Senior Policy Analyst, U.S. Department of Education
State Superintendent of Education, District of Columbia, 2007-2009
Currently State Education Commissioner, Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education