Deborah Gist resigns for the good of the community

Deborah Gist resigned in order to
keep control over school decisions
where they belong: with the people.

It’s official: Sep. 15 will be Dr. Deborah
Gist’s last day as Tulsa Public Schools’ su-
perintendent. Some speculate that this was
brought around by her alleged mishandling
of funds during COVID-19. It is also pos-
sible that this is a result of backlash from
parents and administrators when it was re-
vealed that reading comprehension in Tulsa
schools was below average when compared
to the rest of the state.
Those are the main reasons that State
Superintendent Ryan Walters gives when
threatening the accreditation of Tulsa Public
Schools. However, it has long been apparent
how Walters feels about the education sys-
tem and the teachers in Oklahoma, especial-
ly Tulsa, despite being a former high school
teacher himself. In May, he compared teach-
er unions to “terrorist organizations” that go
against what is best for students. Because of
this, Walters also threatened to have Tulsa
Public Schools have all of its decisions
made through the state, instead of by the lo-
cal school board.
This is something Gist has been fighting
against for at least as long as Walters has
been in office. The wants and needs of par-
ents and students would not be listened to if
this were to happen.
So, what reason did Gist give for resign-
ing? In her letter to the teachers and parents
of Tulsa, she states that her decision comes
as a way to appease Walters, at least for the
moment, in order to keep control and deci-
sion-making local.
In her letter, she states that her main
goal as superintendent of Tulsa was, “…to
raise up all of our children, as learners and
as people, in a context where everyone be-
longs and is not just welcome, but is loved
and calibrated for their whole and complete
selves.” She goes on to state, “It is no secret
that our state superintendent has had an un-
relenting focus on our district and specifi-
cally on me.”
These principles go against everything
that Walters seems to stand for. He has ad-
vocated for the banning of books in schools
containing “sexualized content,” a known
dog whistle for anything that is explicitly
LGBTQ+. He has declared that he wishes
to put prayer back in school, meaning he
wants to make Christian prayer mandato-
ry in schools considering prayer itself has
never been banned. Either way, he does not
endorse the inclusive environment Gist has
been pushing for, hence the unrelenting at-
tacks on her since he gained office.
While her call for resignation by Walters
is completely unjustified and just a way to
appease his conservative-leaning voters and
allies, Gist’s decision to resign does prevent
him, at least in the short term, from carry-
ing out his threats. She is right in her deci-
sion to step down and it should not be seen
as her leaving when the going gets tough.
Gist made her decision in order to give the
Tulsa Public Schools board some time to
find a way to meet his other demands, one
of which is to improve reading proficiency
in schools. This kind of non-political goal
is a more plausible thing to accomplish than
the cultural fight that is happening simulta-
Tulsa is a somewhat progressive city in a
very conservative state. The fact that Tulsa
strives to show that it is inclusive to every-
one in order to bring businesses to our area
is one of the few things our city has going
for it. Because Tulsa pushes for a more pro-
gressive outlook, it has already been swept
up into the culture war that politicians from
both sides of the aisle like to stir up to get
attention. The topics that are really being
fought for here have nothing to do with
school performance. Instead, they have to
do with how a bigger power, in this case
Walters, can control what happens to the
children of an area without taking into ac-
count how the people of that area feel.
Of course, it is not all bad for Gist. While
she hopes that her actions will get Walters to
back off long enough for the school boards
to formulate a plan, the severance package
that she will receive is close to $200,000.
While it is a step down from her former sal-
ary of at least $241,000 per year, it is still
a hefty chunk of change. According to the
Tulsa World, she was one of the highest paid
employees for an Oklahoma public school.
That is until Dr. Ebony Johnson takes over
as interim Tulsa superintendent with a base
salary of $270,000 per year. To put this
in perspective, the average Tulsa teacher
makes as little as $40,000 to $70,000 per
Lastly, the only person who voted against
electing Johnson as interim superintendent
was Dr. Jerry Griffin. Gist highly recom-
mended Johnson for the role. Griffin has
been a strong opponent of Gist for a long
time, even calling for her resignation several
months ago when he claimed that Gist was
accusing him and everyone he worked with
of being racist. Now, however, he seems
to have changed his tune and says that he
wishes she would have stayed so they could
work things out. It seems highly unlikely
that Johnson, a woman of color,will be met
with support from Griffin.

Post Author: Rebecca Woods