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.