When Deborah Gist became commissioner of Rhode Island schools in 2009, she pledged to make every decision in the best interests of children — something we’ve heard before and rarely seen happen. Then she started doing it.
At first, no one outside Rhode Island noticed. Gist, 43, announced that staffing decisions would be based on teacher qualifications, not seniority. She also launched a new evaluation system in which teachers get annual reviews — an idea practiced in only 15 other states. When she learned that Rhode Island’s teacher-training programs had one of the lowest test-score requirements for entrance, she found out which state set the bar the highest — then raised Rhode Island’s one point above it.