Tulsa Public Schools

Tulsa (Oklahoma) school superintendent resigns, hopes to ward off state takeover of district

Aug. 23, 2023
Deborah Gist says she is leaving the state's largest school district after 8 years as superintendent.

Tulsa (Oklahoma) Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist has announced her resignation in an effort to prevent a state takeover of the district.

The Tulsa Tribune reports that Gist's decision comes as the Oklahoma State Board of Education prepares to meet later this week to consider the Tulsa district's accreditation status. Citing the district’s performance on standardized tests and concerns about financial management in the district, State Superintendent Ryan Walters asked in July that the district’s accreditation renewal be delayed until this month.

“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,” Gist wrote to employees. “So I am stepping away."

Walters has said that all options are on the table regarding the Tulsa district’s status, including nonaccreditation, which would close the district, or probation, which would enable the Oklahoma State Department of Education to take over the district.

Since July, Walters has railed against Gist’s leadership, citing poor reading proficiency rates among its students, the number of Tulsa school sites deemed failures on the state’s school report cards, and high-profile embezzlement allegations against a now-former human resource director in the district.

Gist’s tenure with the district started in July 2015. The’ board voted 4-3 last year to extend her contract through June 30, 2026. 

Gist’s eight-plus years as superintendent coincided with extraordinarily challenging circumstances, including the statewide teacher walkout in 2018, the spring 2019 Arkansas River flood and record-breaking winter conditions that damaged multiple school buildings in February 2021.

Gist also led the district as it had to contend with Covid-19. Most of the district was in distance learning from March 2020 until February 2021, based on guidance from public health officials — but the decision drew criticism from Gov. Kevin Stitt.

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