It has been a tumultuous first year on the job for Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who began work on July 1, 2009. Despite the dispute surrounding the firing of all the current teachers at Central Falls High School and the unsuccessful bid to win federal funds in the first round of Race to the Top, Gist remains upbeat and determined to ensure that “every student in Rhode Island has an excellent teacher in their classroom and an excellent school leader.”
Last week, she announced plans to apply for $75 million in the second round of federal funding and was named to Time magazine’s list of “The World’s Most Influential People.”
PBN: So much attention has been focused on what is “wrong” with Rhode Island schools. What do you think is going very well in Rhode Island schools?
GIST: We have many examples of excellence across the state. I’ve seen schools and classrooms that are shining examples of what we need to be doing in our state. Our plans that we have for the whole state reflect some of those best practices. The standards that we have in place and the quality of state assessments are strong. The initial work we’re doing on curriculum development with 17 districts is really a best practice. The proficiency-based graduation is a model for the country.
PBN: How important is it for Rhode Island to adopt a formula for school funding for the next budget year?
GIST: It’s critical that we have a funding formula in our state. We spent a significant amount of time and energy developing what we are confident is an excellent funding system. And, one that we think will move us from being the only state without a formula to the state with the best formula in the country.
PBN: Can you be more specific?
GIST: We started by asking ourselves the question: “What does it cost to educate a child in the state of Rhode Island?” More specifically, “What does it cost to educate a child to the expectations that we have set forth in our state through the basic education program.” We’re confident that what we’re recommending not only distributes aid equitably, but also distributes an appropriate amount of aid for every community to educate students to the levels that we’re asking them to do so.