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Sunday, July 27, 2014

"A place ‘full of joy where people laugh and have fun"

What did we learn from Gist’s dissertation?

In Deborah Gist’s dissertation, which the Providence Journal reports on, Rhode Island commissioner of education writes that the firing of the Central Falls teachers was “the most difficult experience and greatest challenge for me personally and professionally throughout the case study period.”

She writes, “Trust was at the heart of the issue in Central Falls… There was also a lack of what is known as ‘collective efficacy’ in which each team member believes that the shared effort of the team will result in a positive result…”

So has Rhode Island’s often polarizing education chief learned much about building trust and engendering collective efficacy since studying this situation as part of her U Penn doctorate?

But she managed to find some time now that Sheehan and I helped bring the matter to the Providence Journal’s attention. Gist gave an interview this week to the Journal this week, which reported the embargo has been lifted on her dissertation (I’m not sure that’s accurate). It’s a puff piece, replete with somewhat misleading passages such as this one:
“Critics have painted Gist as a leader who surrounded herself with like-minded thinkers. But the leader she describes in these pages wants nothing more than the trust of her staff and Rhode Island’s teachers. In fact, she talks about creating a work environment built around love, a place ‘full of joy where people laugh and have fun.’”
As a point of fact, Gist critics (and, really, anyone paying close attention to education politics) know she isn’t surrounded by like-minded thinkers at the Department of Education. Even the dissertation reports that Gist kept current RIDE staff instead of replacing them, as was suggested to her by the Broad Foundation (p. 76). And it’s well-regarded as fact that Gist done little in Rhode Island to create a place “full of joy where people laugh and have fun.”

To this end, Gist’s dissertation and the difficulty the public had in gleaning its substance, is a study in leadership.

Indeed, Gist herself thought to include in her dissertation a quote attributed union leader Marcia Rebak: “Commissioner Gist, teachers in the state of Rhode Island have trust issues with you.”

You can read most of Gist’s dissertation below, save for about 40 pages I wasn’t able to obtain: Gist Dissertation Select Chapters

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.