Deborah Gist

Dr. Deborah A. Gist is a career educator and lifelong learner who is deeply committed to
leading transformational change and developing leaders working to improve our world.
She is nationally recognized for her leadership of innovative programs and initiatives designed
to serve every learner with a focus on children and communities historically farthest from
opportunity. As a public-sector systems leader at the local, state, and federal level, Dr. Gist
consistently set bold visions and held a high bar for what is possible when passionate and
talented professionals come together with communities to build brighter futures for children.
Today, she brings her expertise from 35 years as an educator, state education leader, and
superintendent to leaders across the country as Superintendent in Residence for Transcend,
an organization that supports school communities to create and spread extraordinary,
equitable learning environments. She also serves as Senior Advisor to the President at the
University of Tulsa providing focused strategic support for innovative approaches to teaching
and learning and developing transformational leaders.


Dr. Gist’s career as an educator started in Texas in an elementary classroom, where she
began receiving awards for teaching early in her career. While in Texas, she was one of the
founding teachers for an innovative school based on experiential learning. Dr. Gist was also an
award-winning teacher in Florida where she and her students created an environmental
learning center and where she went on to found a family-literacy program that grew to serve
children, families, and teachers in 108 schools.


Through the next decade, Dr. Gist moved into policy and executive management serving as a
senior policy analyst for the Secretary of Education at the United States Department of
Education; founding executive director of Serve DC in the Executive Office of the Mayor; and
was named as the first State Superintendent of Education for Washington, DC where she led
the creation of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the District’s first
independent state education agency.


For six years, Dr. Gist served as Commissioner of Education for the State of Rhode Island
overseeing the redesign of the state’s education funding formula, a historic increase in high
school graduation rates, two successful applications for $125 million in Race to the Top grant
funding, the implementation of new college- and career-ready standards, and expanded
access to high-quality early childhood programming. As a result of her work in Rhode Island,
she was named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and as
one of The Atlantic’s Brave Thinkers.


In 2015, Dr. Gist returned to her hometown to serve as superintendent at Tulsa Public Schools,
an urban district serving 34,000 students across 78 schools and charter school partners.
During Superintendent Gist’s eight-year tenure, Tulsa Public Schools significantly increased
graduation rates; expanded its dual language programming; opened the only three public
Montessori programs in the state; implemented the Seal of Biliteracy for high school students
demonstrating proficiency in at least two languages; launched a unified enrollment system, and
passed a five-year $415 million bond to transform teaching and learning experiences across
the city. The district was also recognized nationally for its work around social emotional
learning, out-of-school-time learning, their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its
leadership in developing and implementing culturally relevant and sustaining curricula about
the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. In 2018, Superintendent Gist joined more than 100 educators on a 110 mile march to Oklahoma City to advocate for increases in state education funding to
provide the resources that Oklahoma teachers and children need and deserve.
Dr. Gist holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of
Oklahoma, a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida, a
master’s of public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
University, and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. She
was a fellow in the Broad Superintendent’s Academy and in the Pahara-Aspen Education
Fellowship and is now a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.


Deeply dedicated to service and to community, she was a member of the 1921 Tulsa Race
Massacre Commission and sits on the board of Greenwood Rising–a museum that tells the
story of Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District. Dr. Gist has also been active on advisory boards
of Tulsa Educare, the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, Junior Achievement of
Oklahoma, Tulsa Area United Way, and the Boy Scouts of America Indian Nations Council.
She is a founding member of Chiefs for Change and was an Editorial Advisory Board member
for The Line, a national publication for K-12 education leaders.


Dr. Gist has been recognized for her service to the Tulsa community by a number of local
organizations. She was named as the 2023 Education Pillar Community Honoree by 100 Black
Men of Tulsa and as one of the YWCA Tulsa’s 2021 Pinnacle Award winners. In 2021, she was
one of Tulsa World’s Tulsans of the Year and was named Public Administrator of the Year. In
2017, she received the Boomtown Award from Tulsa’s Young Professionals–their highest
honor for a community leader, the Nancy McDonald Award from Oklahomans for Equality, and
the Newsmakers Award from the Association for Women in Communications. She received the
Madam President Award from the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa in 2016.
Dr. Gist is a resident of her beloved hometown, Tulsa, OK, where she lives with her husband
and family.

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Transcend is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates nationally.