Commissioner’s Biography

Deborah A. Gist is the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education. From the day of her arrival in Rhode Island four years ago, Deborah has pledged that every decision she makes will be in the best interest of Rhode Island students. 

Under her leadership, Rhode Island has won both a Race to the Top and a Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant, to help transform education across the state. Deborah has spearheaded a number of education initiatives in Rhode Island, including:

  • the first annual evaluations for all teachers and principals, 
  • accountability for schools based on student growth and closing achievement gaps, 
  • a statewide funding formula for education based on district capacity and student need, 
  • data systems to provide teachers with information at the student level and to provide the public with detailed information on school performance and education finance, and
  • innovation powered by technology to transform education at the classroom level.

"I started my career as a teacher more than two decades ago, and I cannot imagine wanting to do anything other than helping children to learn. I have never and will never—even for a moment—forget the joys and challenges of teaching children every day, and that is the heart of every decision I make as a leader."

-Commissioner Gist upon her appointment by the Board of Regents, 2009

Prior History

Before coming to Rhode Island, Deborah served as the first State Superintendent of Education for the District of Columbia. 

She began her career in education 25 years ago as an elementary-school teacher in Fort Worth and, later, in Tampa, where she conceived, designed, and initiated a literacy program serving families in 108 elementary schools in Hillsborough County. 

Deborah holds a bachelor of science degree in early-childhood education from the University of Oklahoma, a master of arts in elementary education and curriculum from the University of South Florida, a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a doctoral degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania. 


In 2008, Deborah was a Broad Superintendents Academy Fellow. She serves on the executive committee of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and she is a founding member of Chiefs for Change.

In 2010, Deborah was one of the Time 100, “the people who most affect our world,” and one of The Atlantic Brave Thinkers, whom the magazine recognizes for “the year’s most intrepid and original thinking.

In 2012, she was a winner of a Brian Bennett Education Warrior Award from Democrats for Education Reform.


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