UPDATE @ 6:50 p.m.
State Superintendent Ryan Walters released a statement following Deborah Gist’s resignation:
“I’ve been crystal clear that Tulsa Public Schools needs a dramatic change in leadership, and I am pleased to see the board taking this seriously with the removal of Deborah Gist,” Walters said.
“From day one, I called for the removal of Gist in order to get the district on a path to success. I am optimistic that this is a step in the right direction, that TPS and the community takes their situation seriously. Financial transparency and academic outcomes must come next. I will put Tulsa kids first.”
State Superintendent Ryan Walters met with media in early August to address what he calls a “rigorous need for intervention” and a change of leadership for the largest school district in the state, going as far as to call Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist a “failure” and demand she be removed from leadership.
“In the last seven years we’ve continued to see failed leadership from Superintendent Gist here in Tulsa,” said Walters. “Tulsa Public Schools is a bus being driven by Superintendent Deborah Gist. That bus has veered off the road, that bus has gone into a ditch, and now that bus has crashed right into a tree.”
Supt. Walters says the district’s accreditation status is on the line, accusing Gist and TPS leadership of mismanaging funds and failing to improve student outcomes.
A decision to downgrade the district could mean students are reassigned to the nearest accredited school, according to a 2020 state statute.
Tulsa Public School officials say the State Department of Education’s accreditation process has had irregularities:
Some Tulsans said the constant jabs by Walters are nothing but unchecked power at the state level.
“He’s not offered any support. He’s in teardown. To do this at this time of year when our students are just going back to school is going to be a chaotic mess,” said one woman, attending a recent Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
“[We need to] reign the state superintendent in. He’s in the wrong place, doing the wrong things,” said another.
Now, Supt. Gist says she’s stepping down “in order to keep control of our schools where it belongs – in Tulsa with our elected Board of Education.”
Dear Tulsa Families,
Over the past few weeks, many of you have raised your voices and demonstrated your commitment to maintaining strong, local control of Tulsa Public Schools. Your concern and steadfast dedication to our schools, our students, and our community represents the very best of Tulsa.
Please know I see you. I hear you. I appreciate you. Your hard work has galvanized our community and our lawmakers. The most critical thing we must continue to do is stand together to insist that local control of our schools is what our community wants and expects.
I am writing to share with you that, in order to keep control of our schools where it belongs – in Tulsa with our elected Board of Education – I believe it is necessary for me to step aside as superintendent. Doing so offers the best chance for control of our schools to remain in Tulsa, 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. So, with a broken heart, but unbreakable commitment, I have begun those discussions with our school board.
There will be a special board meeting on Wednesday evening where the board will consider my separation as well as the appointment of Dr. Ebony Johnson as interim superintendent. I am enthusiastic about the board’s plan to act upon the appointment of Dr. Johnson as interim superintendent. 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.
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. What we have built together is larger and stronger than any one of us, and Team Tulsa will continue to serve our students and make the improvements we know our students need and deserve.
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 the students and families of Tulsa are boundless.
To pull a school or district’s accreditation, the State Board of Education must first discuss it before putting the decision to a vote before the Board.
That meeting is currently scheduled to take place on August 24 at 9:30 a.m.