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Tulsa school board accepts Gist’s resignation, names Johnson interim superintendent

Deborah Gist embraces a supporter following a Tulsa school board meeting. Gist submitted her officially submitted her resignation Wednesday night to head off an accreditation threat from Oklahoma's State Board of Education.
Ben Abrams
/
OPMX
Deborah Gist embraces a supporter following a Tulsa school board meeting. Gist submitted her officially submitted her resignation Wednesday night to head off an accreditation threat from Oklahoma's State Board of Education.

The Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education formally accepted the resignation of Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist during a special meeting Wednesday, a day before the State Board of Education will decide the fate of TPS’s accreditation status.

Board President Stacey Woolley was emotional before the official vote accepting Gist’s departure.

“This is not what I wish for. This is not what I’ve heard from our community... and I hope that everyone in this room who doesn’t support this action will be present on Thursday to talk to the man who demanded it,” Woolley said, “While he was elected as our state superintendent of schools, he did not win the city of Tulsa.”

Gist and the district she oversaw have come underharsh scrutiny from State Superintendent Ryan Walters over low reading scores, alleged financial mismanagement and other complaints. Gist repeatedly defended her record and the district, saying Walters misrepresented information he used to attack TPS.

After emerging from the first of two executive sessions, the audience inside the Charles C. Mason Education Service Center gave Gist a standing ovation before the board members cast their votes.

Dr. Jennettie Marshall said while she did not want to see Gist resign, there was a “greater good to be gained” from the move, emphasizing the need for TPS to stay under control of local officials.

Marshall encouraged Tulsans to drive to Oklahoma City to attend the state board’s vote on Thursday morning. “Drive that 103 miles early in the morning and camp out if you have to, get in the room if you’re able to and let your presence be known," she said.

Dr. Jerry Griffin gave some pushback, saying there was “another side to the story” when it comes to TPS’ predicament. He also criticized those, namely students, who voiced “ad hominem” attacks toward members of the board. Griffin did, however, praise Gist as a “wonderful person” saying he could “disagree with her one minute and have coffee with her the next, and I wish we could all learn to do that.”

Johnson appointed interim

After a second executive session, the board voted on and approved the appointment of Dr. Ebony Johnson, TPS chief learning officer, to be interim superintendent after Gist leaves Sept. 15.

The board praised Johnson’s record. Marshall called Johnson “a leader” and “a visionary.” Woolley called her “a Tulsan, through and through, who knows what Tulsans appreciate and need.” E’Lena Ashley said Johnson’s record is “stellar” and that “she’s put in the work.” Diamond Marshall said Johnson brings her “tremendous hope.”

Griffin expressed concern about precedent.

“I think if some of my suggestions would have been followed, Dr. Gist would not have had to resign tonight.” Griffin, who was the sole ‘no’ vote in approving Johnson as interim superintendent, said.

Hopes and fears after Gist’s resignation

Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, who spoke in support of Gist at a board meeting Monday and was in attendance Wednesday, said Gist’s resignation was a “sudden turn of events.”

“I would have like to have seen her fight it out,” Waldron said, “but she made a sacrifice on behalf of Tulsa Public Schools, and I respect her decision.”

Waldron said he hopes the state board “decides enough is enough” and accredits TPS, but he also fears Gist’s resignation may be seen as a political victory for some.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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