Tulsa School Leader Steps Down Amid GOP Superintendent's Warning of Takeover and Accreditation Risk

Tulsa’s school superintendent, Deborah Gist, has tendered her resignation amid an ongoing disagreement with State School Superintendent Ryan Walters.

Deborah Gist, who led the Tulsa school district, officially announced her departure on Tuesday, as reported by the Oklahoman, a part of the USA TODAY Network.

“It’s clear that our state superintendent has been singularly focused on our district and particularly on me,” Gist mentioned in an email circulated to her colleagues within the district. She expressed her belief that her departure would prevent the district from falling under state control.

The Oklahoma Board of Education is set to convene for its regular monthly meeting on Thursday to review the district’s accreditation status. In a session held in July, the state board supported Walters’ proposal to defer the decision concerning Tulsa’s accreditation, while granting accreditation to other districts.

“After examining the situation, it’s evident that the district has not fulfilled its responsibilities to the students,” Walters remarked following the July meeting.

Continual Critics’ Review
Both Walters and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt have consistently voiced their criticism of the district’s track record.

Stitt questioned the district’s decision to close schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Walters took up the criticism, focusing on the state’s largest school district, which serves a predominantly nonwhite student population of over 33,000. He has highlighted what he perceives as “serious and substantial challenges” and a series of scandals that have affected the district.

At present, the State Auditor is actively investigating the district in connection with allegations of embezzlement.

‘Positive Progress’
Following Gist’s email announcement, Walters issued a statement expressing his optimism, saying, “I believe this is a positive step forward. It’s been evident that Tulsa Public Schools requires a significant shift in leadership.”

Gist, who has held the superintendent position since 2015, mentioned that deciding to step away from her role with Team Tulsa was an incredibly tough choice.

To address her departure and the transition, Gist noted that the Tulsa School Board would convene a special session on Wednesday. The meeting will cover her resignation and the appointment of Ebony Johnson as the interim successor. Johnson currently serves as the district’s chief learning officer.