Gist: I'll seek better relations with teachers, but survey won't influence decisions

Gist: I'll seek better relations with teachers, but survey won't influence decisions

Union leaders say it offers 'stinging indictment' of her leadership

PROVIDENCE - Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has issued her response to a survey of Rhode Island teachers that shows deep dissatisfaction with her leadership. As she noted in her State of Education address to the General Assembly, said Gist in an email to The Breeze, "it is important that all of us focus on the big issues and on our common goals as we work together to transform education in Rhode Island."

Receiving feedback from teachers and engaging them in dialogue "is an important part" of the work done at the R.I. Department of Education, said Gist, "and I regularly meet with and communicate with labor leaders and educators at many professional meetings, school visits, workshops, committee meetings, and informal occasions – as well as through, email, phone calls, letters, and social media."

Added Gist, "I plan to review the information in the survey of Rhode Island public school teachers that the National Education Association of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals jointly sponsored, and I will use this information to improve communications with and outreach to our teachers and school leaders. I welcome specific suggestions from educators as to how we can build a better mutual understanding and working relationship."

As commissioner of education, said Gist, "I am well aware that I must at times advance policies and initiatives that require our professional educators to change current practices – and that these changes can prove to be challenging and uncomfortable, at least initially. While gathering feedback and engaging our educators is key to ensuring quality decisions, I cannot and do not base my decisions on polls, surveys, and popular opinion. Rather, I base every decision on make on what is in the best interest of our students."

PROVIDENCE - A survey of Rhode Island’s public school classroom teachers offers "a stinging indictment" of the leadership of Deborah Gist as the state’s Education Commissioner, according to a joint press release Tuesday from the National Education Association and Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. The survey, conducted by Fleming and Associates from April 22 to April 24, consisted of a telephone survey of 402 randomly selected Rhode Island public school teachers.

“For too long Commissioner Gist has spoken of her support among classroom teachers," said Frank Flynn, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, in a statement. "We decided to put that notion to an independent test. This survey found that she is not supported by classroom teachers. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that her leadership is almost universally rejected.”

The survey highlights "speak for themselves," according to the release.

• 82 percent of the state's classroom teachers feel less respected today than they did when Gist started her tenure.

• Gist’s "Race To The Top" initiative has been "nothing short of a disaster" for Rhode Island education, it states. Classroom teachers, in overwhelming numbers, felt it was somewhat ineffective (22 percent) or a waste of money (60 percent).

• Teacher morale "is abysmal" under Gist, say union leaders. Classroom teachers, at the rate of 68 percent, thought morale was poor, and 22 percent fair. A total of 88 percent of teachers feel morale is "unacceptable" in Rhode Island schools today.

• When asked about Commissioner Gist’s communication with teachers, 63 percent said it is poor and 27 percent fair. Only 8 percent thought her communication with teachers was excellent or good.

• 72 percent of teachers believe the NECAP test should not be a requirement for graduation from high school.

• When asked if Gist’s contract should be renewed in June, 85 percent of teachers said no and 7 percent said yes.

“It is imperative that Rhode Island’s classroom teachers be heard on the important matter of Commissioner Gist’s contract renewal," said Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island. "On behalf of Rhode Island's roughly 10,500 public school teachers, we are calling on Governor Chafee and the Rhode Island Board of Education to hold a public forum on this important matter. These results go far beyond a simple ‘no confidence’ vote in Commissioner Gist’s leadership. They spell out a serious need to immediately address the lack of leadership facing Rhode Island’s education community today."