Carmen James Lane (l), Deborah Gist (c), and Juanita Wade (r) listen to a question from the Moriah Fund’s Mary Ann Stein.
Deborah Gist’s philosophy might be best described as a permutation of the famous adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” To a room full of Public Education Working Group members, she passionately proclaimed that, “education has the power to help anyone change their life circumstances.”
Gist heads the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), and she began her presentation to funders by admitting to a history of confusion in the school systems – specifically, a confusion around authority. Running down a long list of obsolete acronyms, she explained that prior to her office’s creation in June 2007, the authority now vested there had been spread across four different agencies. The consolidation occurred as a major piece of Mayor Fenty’s education reforms.
OSSE’s responsibilities compliment those of the Chancellor. The office is in charge of funds allocations, setting policies, and standards development and implementation. The Chancellor’s work is more precise “groundwork” – enforcing the standards and policies through school staffing decisions, for example. The two leaders meet weekly with Mayor Fenty, Deputy Mayor Reinoso, and facilities manager Allen Lew to ensure that all parties are coordinated with each other.
Matching her optimism about the power of education, Gist assured funders that the District school system has the resources and funding that it needs to get the job done. The task at hand is erasing years of poor management and aligning resources properly to make the school system the best it can be.
She endorsed her confidence with a commitment to the Working Group: Funders will no longer need to help “plug holes” in the school system. The government will do what it is supposed to be doing and will deliver the quality education that has been lacking for years.
But, Gist still needs help from funders. She asked for their feedback as keen observers and issue experts. She asked for critical witnesses as she implements OSSE’s four policy priorities: early childhood; educator quality for teachers and school leaders; post-secondary and vocational preparation; and, early literacy. And, she promised to keep an open door until the next time she meets with the Working Group.