“School systems that have successfully ignited reforms and sustained their momentum have all relied on at least one of three events to get them started: they have either taken advantage of a political or economic crisis, or commissioned a high-profile report critical of the system’s performance, or have appointed a new, energetic and visionary political or strategic leader.”
Rhode Island’s “energetic and visionary” leader, Commissioner Deborah Gist, wants to keep her job when Gina Raimondo takes office next year. The Board of Education meets tonight and it’s not on their agenda, but you can bet it’s on their minds.
The passage above is from an influential McKinsey & Company report, quoted by Gist in her doctoral dissertation. Although she was not initially interested in being our education commissioner, she recounts in her research, she was actively recruited by Angus Davis, who painted a rosy picture of Rhode Island as a reform-ready state.
In many respects she found this to be true and she is generous in her praise for the work of ex-Commissioner McWalters and ex-Governor Carcieri’s Board of Regents for creating a base she could build on. A founding member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change and a graduate of the Broad Academy, Gist was warmly welcomed by Rhode Island’s business community and its Republican governor.
RIDE ‘s development and implementation of a new teacher evaluation system is the focus of her self-study dissertation: “An Ocean State Voyage: A Leadership Case Study of Creating an Evaluation System With and For Teachers”. Most teachers are not with and for Gist. Her dissertation discusses her difficult relationship with teachers through the firings in Central Falls and Providence and teachers’ strong resistance to the use of student standardized test scores in their own evaluations.
Now that the Common Core has arrived in the suburbs, there is growing discontent with her leadership among parents as well, which is likely to flare up with the the first administration of the PAARC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test in the spring of this school year.
Gist regarded Carcieri as “reform-minded and open to taking aggressive steps to bring about the necessary changes to Rhode Island’s education system” and, although she didn’t have the same rapport with Governor Chafee, she made her peace with him after a difficult start.
Given Governor-elect Raimondo’s celebrity as a pension reformer, some assume that she is committed to the entire union-busting privatizing program of corporate reform. The Fordham Institute’s Michael J. Petrilli, for example: “Of particular note is Rhode Island—Rhode Island!—which just elected a pro-education reform, pro-pension reform Democrat as governor and a bona fide charter school hero as lieutenant governor. All while voters in Providence rejected a union-backed convicted felon in favor of a charter supporter. Remarkable!”
Governor-elect Gina Raimondo and her husband, Andy Moffit, are parents of children attending school in Providence and Raimondo has said positive things about public schools and public school teachers. Moffit is a senior consultant in education with McKinsey & Co. He had a hand in the report, “How the world’s best school systems keep getting better,” that introduces these comments and that Gist quoted in her dissertation.
He was a principle author of Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for Educational Leaders, which Gist admires. After Governor Chafee’s election, the Board of Regents changed significantly which worried Gist. It must also have dismayed Moffit, who was nominated to the Board by Carcieri but decided not to serve under Chafee. Both Gist and Moffit have interests in large-scale change of school systems and educational organizations. Like Gist, Moffit has serious corporate-reform credentials. If the two don’t know each other well, at the very least they are professional acquaintances with common contacts.
I don’t know if this connection will work for or against Gist and I’m not even going to guess how the next lieutenant governor’s opinion might figure into the decision. Certainly Raimondo will not want to add to the the anger and distrust that Rhode Island educators feel over pension issues by retaining an unpopular Commissioner. Nor will she wish to create the impression that her husband’s career has undue influence on her decision. On the other hand , her sensitivity to the business community, the input of pro-corporate reform campaign contributors, and a shout-out from Washington could work for Gist.