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New governor could change face of RI education reform

November 3, 2010

Rhode Island’s newly elected Governor, Lincoln Chafee, could have a significant effect on education reform efforts now underway in the state.

Nearly all of the members of the board that oversees K-12 public schools are up for re-appointment, and then there is the question of whether State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who has developed a reputation for pushing for reforms like annual teacher evaluations and tighter controls on public charter schools, will stay in Rhode Island.

Chafee made waves during the campaign season by appearing to question parts of Rhode Island’s Race to the Top plan. He also received support from teachers’ unions, which have been skeptical of efforts to incorporate test scores into teacher evaluations among other concerns.

Though Chafee has since said that he supports the state’s education reform plan, his comments added fuel to speculation that Gist might seek a return to Washington, D.C., where her husband still lives and where Schools Chancellor Michele Rhee recently stepped down.

Gist has denied that she is thinking about anything other than education policy in Rhode Island. As the voting tallies came in on election night, she updated her Facebook status to say the following:

I am looking forward to working with Rhode Island’s next governor to continue leading our transformation plans for Rhode Island schools. We are fortunate that every candidate repeatedly supported our reform agenda. Onward!

Many people I’ve spoken to in Rhode Island’s education reform community say they hope Gist will stay. She did ask for and receive a one-year extension on her contract recently from the Board of Regents.

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