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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gist's gotta go

Deborah Gist is nothing if not polarizing.

Nearly 90 percent of local teachers want a new leader. But the Chamber of Commerce supports her. She backed the firing of Central Falls teachers, but she has the backing of the East Greenwich School Committee. Tom Sgouros and the Providence Student Union have twisted her in knots over high stakes testing; Travis Rowley and John DePetro think she deserves a raise.

This week I’ve been writing a lot about how there are two very different Rhode Islands: the suburbs and the cities. Deborah Gist’s management of public education has unequivocally exacerbated this divide. And more to the point, education has gotten worse not better under her leadership. Even by her own preferred metrics, student performance has decreased since she’s been in charge.

Her critics argue that her policies and philosophies are designed to apply the Grover Norquist approach to public education: slowly shrink it down until the best option is to outsource whatever is left over. This is what progressives fear about the so-called education “reform” movement, and it is what conservatives like about it.

It needs to be noted that she does not have coherent ideas for how to improve education in urban areas or how to improve teacher morale. (See my interviews with her on both issues here and here.) And these are the biggest issues facing public education in Rhode Island.

Teachers hate her. Even the Providence Journal, which loves to belittle issues as being driven by unions gives a nod in print today to the “rank and file” educators opposed to her (though it’s wildly unfair to their readers that the ProJo covered the business communities support for Gist more than teacher’s lack of it) You can’t get a lot done at the office with 9 of 10 employees wanting you fired. 

She’s the Bobby Valentine of Rhode Island public education: smart as hell, really engaging personality, great resume but just couldn’t get the team to play ball for her.

Urban education, on the other hand, is the single most important issue we need to work on to solve every nearly every vexing issue in Rhode Island. The same kids that aren’t getting an adequate public education in, say, Woonsocket, where schools are running out of money and not improving education, are growing up to be one in three people who accept public assistance, which makes CNBC think we’re a bad place to do business which, allegedly, the upper crust bases their real estate decisions upon.

On May 23, the state Board of Education meets to discuss whether or not to renew her contract.
While her policies have not been popular with the public, she seems to enjoy some support with Chairwoman Eva Mancuso and while was recruited to Rhode Island by Don Carcieri, Linc Chafee seems to have some loyalty to her. But eight days can be an eternity in politics.

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.