Deborah Gist's Headshot

Deborah Gist

Two-time Teacher of the Year, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education - Panelist Blurb

Deborah Gist is the commissioner of elementary and secondary education for Rhode Island, and formerly the first state superintendent of education in the District of Columbia, where she was responsible for transitioning all state-level education functions to this newly formed office and for putting into effect the accountability systems of the federal No Child Left Behind education law. Gist taught and served directly in schools for more than a decade early in her career, earning "Teacher of the Year" honors at her schools in both Ft. Worth, Texas and Tampa, Florida.

Gist began her service as the Rhode Island commissioner on July 1, 2009. Previously, as the first state superintendent of education in the District of Columbia, she created new, progressive educator-certification polices for teachers and school administrators, and enacted new standards for teacher-preparation programs to improve quality, expand opportunity, and encourage innovation. She worked with the first state board of education in the District to transition its role to that of a policy-setting body, and she developed many important state-level education policies, including standards for health and physical education, world languages, arts education, and early-childhood learning.

Before taking on the role as state superintendent, Gist served for three years as the state education officer in the District where she achieved a federal funding increase of more than 100 percent for a tuition assistance program now serving 5,000 District students, and oversaw dramatic improvements in much-maligned child-nutrition programs. She has also served as a senior policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, where she advised the secretary and deputy secretary on top issues, analyzed proposed policy initiatives, and conducted research and feasibility studies.

As a teacher in the Ft. Worth, Texas, elementary schools, Gist focused on literacy education and applied learning. In Tampa, Florida, she founded and directed a center on environmental education and later conceived, designed, and initiated Hillsborough Reads, which served families in 108 elementary schools in Hillsborough County.

Gist holds a master's degree in public administration from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, a Bachelor of Science degree in early-childhood education from the University of Oklahoma, and a Master of Arts in elementary education, with an emphasis in curriculum, from the University of South Florida. In 2008, she completed a fellowship with the Broad Academy for Superintendents, which prepares talented leaders to take on executive leadership roles in urban education.

NOTE: Bio is as it appeared in The Forum program on November 11, 2010.