Wednesday, August 23rd 2023, 10:19 pm
Tulsa Public Schools board members appointed a temporary replacement for Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist, following her resignation.
The board on Wednesday, Aug. 23, approved Dr. Ebony Johnson as the interim superintendent.
Dr. Johnson has been with Tulsa Public Schools for 18 years. She currently serves as the district’s Chief Learning Officer.
She joined the district in 2005. In that time, she has served as a teacher, teach coach, dean, assistant principal, and principal.
Dr. Johnson is a lifelong Tulsan. She graduated from McLain and earned her degrees from Northeastern State University and the University of Oklahoma.
Her focus as Chief Learning Officer is educator effectiveness.
In her letter, Gist calls Johnson a stellar educator, strong leader, and remarkable human being.
"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," Dr. Gist said.
Dr. Johnson will begin September 16, a day after Dr. Gist plans to step down.
Read Dr. Gist's full resignation announcement 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.
The district's board members released their own statements in the hours following Gist's resignation.
Dr. Jerry Griffin shared the statement below:
In light of recent reports surrounding the resignation of Dr. Gist, Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, I find it crucial to clarify my position and understanding of the matter. The news surrounding the resignation of Dr. Gist has taken many by surprise, and I wish to expressly state that I too was unaware of the decision until it emerged in the media. Various statements have indicated that this was a decision made by the Tulsa School Board, of which I am a part. However, I was neither consulted nor informed about this decision at any point in time. I must stress that I have not been privy to any discussions regarding the resignation, nor have I been involved in decisions about the interim Superintendent's appointment. These developments have been made without my knowledge or consent. I value transparency, collaboration, and a shared understanding within the Tulsa School Board. Consequently, I eagerly anticipate engaging in a fruitful and constructive discussion with my fellow board members tomorrow to address these concerns. This situation underscores the importance of clear communication and inclusivity in our decision-making processes. It is my hope that the forthcoming discussions will help to mend the gaps and pave the way for a more united and effective governance of our education system. I remain committed to the success and well-being of the Tulsa Public Schools and will continue to work diligently in partnership with the board and the community to ensure the best outcomes for our students.
Board Member Diamond Marshall released the following statement:
I commend Dr. Gist for her dedicated leadership as Superintendent. Her departure is heartbreaking yet, I remain focused on recognizing her immense contributions to our schools and celebrating her leadership. Dr. Gist's relentless commitment to our students has driven significant progress in our district. It is unfortunate that political conflicts have overshadowed her accomplishments. I fully support her decision to step down, prioritizing the well-being of our students over politics. The circumstances leading to Dr. Gist's resignation are disheartening. It is frustrating to see her excellent work marred by external factors. We must now rally as a community to uphold her vision of quality education for all. I pledge to continue Dr. Gist's legacy, advocating for equitable education. Let us refocus on our students and their future, setting aside divisive politics. Dr. Gist's service will leave a lasting impact, and we are grateful for her dedication and the leadership with which she has chosen to lead over the last 8 years and especially in this critical moment for our district.
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