TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist Announces Plan To Resign

Dr. Gist said her last day with Tulsa Public Schools will be on September 15. In her letter, Gist said leaving is the best way to keep the state from taking over the schools.

Wednesday, August 23rd 2023, 7:03 am

By: News On 6


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The Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent, Deborah Gist announced her plan to resign on Tuesday, Aug. 22.

In her letter, Gist said leaving is the best way to keep the state from taking over the schools.

"I am departing because I believe that doing so offers the best chance for control of our schools to remain where they belong: in Tulsa with our elected Board of Education and aligned with the values of our community," Dr. Gist said.

Tulsa Public Schools released the following statement on Gist's resignation:

Dr. Gist today announced plans to step aside from her role as superintendent, through a mutual separation to be finalized with Tulsa’s publicly elected Board of Education, out of a shared commitment to maintain local control of Tulsa Public Schools and prioritize our students. A previously-announced special meeting of the board will occur as scheduled on Wednesday, August 23, at 5:30 pm, with media availability to follow.

In just two days, the State Board of Education is set to vote on the TPS’s accreditation. The state board had talked of removing the accreditation altogether, but, the state accreditation board had recommended TPS be accredited with deficiencies.

"It’s no secret that our state superintendent has had an unrelenting focus on our district and specifically on me, and I am confident that my departure will help to keep our democratically-elected leadership and our team in charge of our schools,” Gist said.

Gist hopes the district will make continued improvements while she’s gone to bring up reading test scores and graduation rates.

The school board will consider her resignation at a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 23, and appoint an interim superintendent. Gist became the first woman to be named Superintendent when she was hired in 2015. As a Tulsa native and graduate of Memorial High School, she returned to her hometown after serving as the commissioner of education for the state of Rhode Island.

Related Story: TPS Board To Approve Interim Supt. Following Gist's Resignation

Dr. Gist said her last day with Tulsa Public Schools will be on September 15.

Read Dr. Gist's full statement below:

Dear Team Tulsa,
With a broken heart, but unbreakable commitment, I want to share with you that I am in discussions with our school board to leave my position as superintendent.
I am departing because I believe that doing so offers the best chance for control of our schools to remain where they belong: in Tulsa with our elected Board of Education and aligned with the values of our community. To me, that means a powerful commitment to raising up all of our children, as learners and as people, in a context where everyone belongs and is not just welcome, but is loved and celebrated for their whole and complete selves. These are the values that have brought so many of us together to serve our students and families.
It is no secret that our state superintendent has had an unrelenting focus on our district and specifically on me, and I am confident that my departure will help to keep our democratically-elected leadership and our team in charge of our schools–this week and in the future. So I’m stepping away. What we have built together is larger and stronger than any one of us, and this team will continue to serve our students and make the improvements we know our students need and deserve.
Tulsa is a community on the reservations of the Cherokee, Muscogee, and Osage Nations and is home to descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Our collective history of unrepaired harms is shameful, and depriving Tulsans of their collective voice over their schools would only add insult to injury.
Making the decision to leave Team Tulsa is the hardest thing I have ever done. It has been a dream come true to serve and lead this team in the schools where I grew up, the schools that shaped me into an educator, a leader, a human being. I’m proud of what we’ve done here, together, in the hometown that I love. My confidence in this team, in our plans and our work, and in the passion that I see throughout our schools, is immeasurable. Even in the most challenging times that we have been through together, I have loved every minute of being part of this extraordinary team.
Team Tulsa is leading impressive work. Together, we’ve provided every Tulsa family with opportunities for their children to succeed at every stage of their educational journey. We’ve made high-quality early learning accessible in every elementary school in our city. We have expanded dual language learning and remain the only school district in the State of Oklahoma with public Montessori schools. We’ve ensured challenging, thought-provoking, real-world learning is available to all students through increases in college courses, career and technical education, and Advanced Placement. Our classroom instruction and school supports for students continue to improve as well. We have much further to go, but our data shows that our young people are seeing the benefits and that proficiency is on the rise again.
There will be a special board meeting on Wednesday evening where the board will consider my separation and the appointment of Dr. Ebony Johnson as interim superintendent. I am enthusiastic about the board’s plan to act upon the appointment of our colleague as interim superintendent. As you know, Dr. Johnson is a lifelong Tulsan, a stellar educator, a strong leader, and a remarkable human being. With the leadership of Dr. Johnson, our team will keep the work of our plan on track and will reach even higher.
This surely seems like an unexpected time for me to say this, but serving as a leader in our schools is the most fulfilling professional experience of my life—or at least, the only thing that rivals the joy of teaching. To state the painfully obvious, there is a lot that makes the job tough — tougher than it even should be. Yet, serving in this role has been an unparalleled opportunity to work alongside Team Tulsa to improve the lives of students and families in an incredibly meaningful way. Even in this moment, I believe leadership can be a phenomenally rewarding choice, just as teaching is for so many of us. Wherever you are in your career path, I hope you’ll consider the possibility of seeking a formal role in education leadership.
I’ll have more to say in a proper good-bye between now and September 15 when I step away. For now, please just know that my gratitude, my faith, and my love for this team are boundless.


Who Is Dr. Deborah Gist?

Doctor Gist became TPS's first woman superintendent when she was hired eight years ago.

Dr. Gist took over the role of superintendent on July 1, 2015, and has said several times that taking the position fulfilled a life-long dream.

As a Tulsa native and graduate of Memorial High School, she returned to her hometown after serving as the commissioner of education for the state of Rhode Island.

Dr. Gist says her proudest moment as leader of TPS was in 2018, taking part in the historic teacher walkouts that increased pay for teachers across the state.

"I have loved every minute of being part of this extraordinary team," Dr. Gist said in her letter.

Why Does Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist Plan To Resign?

Gist's resignation announcement came on the heels of a meeting Monday night at which more than two dozen people signed up to speak about concerns and questions regarding the school district's accreditation status.

Supporters of Tulsa Public Schools passed out fliers on how people can support the district while its accreditation is up for debate.

"I have a daughter, and she's entering kindergarten in Tulsa Public Schools next year, and so I really want to do everything I can to protect the district and make sure it's got her back," said Gene Perry, Protect TPS organizer.

The group, Protect TPS, has given out dozens of these shirts saying "I Am" or "Yo Soy" in Spanish. Even the superintendent and board members wore the shirts.

"Tulsa Public Schools is of and by the community here in Tulsa, and we don't need somebody in Oklahoma City coming in and taking over and taking away our ability on the local level as parents, as teachers, as local voters to say, 'This is what we want our schools to be,' and that's what's being threatened right now," said Perry.

Inside the board meeting, 25 people signed up for the public comment portion. One of those is a former member of the state board of education, Tim Gilpin -- who said bringing up accreditation is like a nuclear bomb to a district.

"Tonight, I would just like to briefly talk about that there are rules and procedures that should have been followed that aren't, and because they're not being followed, it raises the issue of why and what is really the destination point here from the state level?" asked Gilpin.

Gilpin questioned state Superintendent Ryan Walters' motives and hopes the current state board will do the right thing and what's best for students and teachers.

"The correct way to do this would be to address it with the school district what issues there are, there are a series of comments, a series of communications, there is a process of going through issues with the district that are all laid out in the rules and regulations,” said Gilpin.

The next state board of education meeting is this Thursday morning, Aug. 24, in Oklahoma City.

The group Protect TPS has an online petition that has more than 5,000 signatures.

WATCH: Ryan Walters Press Conference About Tulsa Public Schools

What Did Ryan Walters Say About Tulsa Public Schools?

State Superintendent Ryan Walters laid down a list of guidelines and benchmarks for the Tulsa Public Schools this upcoming year and called for new leadership while a vote on the district's accreditation status looms. Walters, under his TPS Improvement Plan, said he wants to see the district re-orient finances to serve students, increase reading proficiency scores to the state average, and get TPS schools off the F-List.

“I’ve been crystal clear that TPS needs a dramatic change in leadership and I am pleased to see the board taking this seriously with the removal of Deborah Gist. From day one, I called for the removal of Gist in order to get the district on a path to success. I am optimistic that this is a step in the right direction, that TPS and the community takes their situation seriously. Financial transparency and academic outcomes must come next. I will always put Tulsa kids first," Walters said in response to Gist's resignation announcement on Tuesday.

Related Story: Ryan Walters On Dr. Deborah Gist's Resignation

This comes after a slew of meetings over the past several weeks with the State Board of Education regarding the district's accreditation status. The State School Board plans to vote on the accreditation issue one week after school starts. The district's accreditation is currently in the warning status.

The TPS district was found to have been in violation of House Bill 1775 last year, which regulates how sex and gender are taught in classrooms.

Have other school districts been impacted by accreditation in Oklahoma?

News On 6 Political Analyst Scott Mitchell said he hasn’t seen anything like this before.

He said in the past, issues between the schools and the state were mostly financial, but this one appears to be more personal.

Related Story: Political Analyst Breaks Down Tulsa Public Schools' Accreditation Battle

The state's Executive Director of Accreditation, Ryan Pieper, outlined some of the most aggressive actions the state has taken against schools in recent history when it comes to accreditation, saying students are in a better place today because of it. 

The former charter school SeeWorth Academy lost its accreditation for the 2019-2020 school year, after the state said it wasn't complying with federal programs, and it impacted graduation credits.

Another situation involved the Western Heights School District in OKC, which was accredited with probation in for the 2021-2022 school year, after the state said the district had issues with financial audits, its nutrition program, and the district disabled the fire suppression system. It's the only district "takeover" Ryan Pieper can recall in state history. 

Related: State Accreditation Director Outlines Past Sanctions Against Troubled School Districts

Is the City of Tulsa or Mayor Bynum involved in TPS' Accreditation?

In a letter to the State Board of Education on Friday, Mayor GT Bynum asked members to accredit Tulsa Public Schools and said the City of Tulsa does not seek, want or need a state-mandated takeover.

Mayor Bynum made the two-page letter available on social media Friday afternoon.

This morning I hosted a meeting between Tulsa Public Schools Board President Stacey Woolley, Vice President John Croisant, State Superintendent of Education Ryan Walters, and Oklahoma State School Board Member Don Burdick. I appreciate the time and candor each participant brought to the discussion, and believe there is a sincere desire to work together to deliver a great education for students in Tulsa Public Schools.
Following that meeting, I sent this letter to members of the State Board of Education in advance of their meeting next Thursday.

"I am incredibly grateful for the service of Dr. Deborah Gist to our community. Throughout her time as Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Gist took on some of the greatest challenges facing Tulsa students - from substandard teacher pay that makes it difficult for us to compete with other states to student safety amidst the greatest public health crises in our city's history. She was always willing to speak truth to power on behalf of the children she has dedicated her life to serving. On their behalf, and on behalf of our city, I want to thank Dr. Gist for all she has done for Tulsa," Mayor Bynum said in response to Gist's resignation announcement on Tuesday.

Related Story: Mayor G.T. Bynum Calls For State Board Of Education To Accredit Tulsa Public Schools

You can visit these links for more information about the State Department of Education and Tulsa Public Schools:

State Dept of Education website

Lookup of Schools/Districts and their information provided by OSDE

Tulsa Public Schools website

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