December has come and gone, along with the deadline for the State Board of Education to give notice of its intent to renew the contract for Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.
The current contract, which expires in June, contains a six-month notification requirement if the board plans to renew. State Department of Education Spokesman Elliot Krieger says the state can still retain Gist, if the board chooses to negotiate a new contract.
Teachers' union leaders see the passage of the deadline as reason to hope that Governor-Elect Gina Raimondo will hire a new commissioner. Gist has alienated many teachers since she first took office in 2009. Part of their dissatisfaction stems from a push for tougher teacher evaluations, which are slated to include student test scores starting in 2017.
Gist has indicated that she would like to stay in Rhode Island, although her husband continues to live in Washington, D.C., as he has since her appointment. On matters of education policy, Gist's views appear to be mostly in line with Raimondo, based on Raimondo's comments on the campaign trail.
Gist scored a major victory early in her tenure when she led the effort that won a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant. She has also called for expanded access to preschool and full-day Kindergarten, which Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed has promised to make a priority in 2015.
But Raimondo has also called for mending relations with teachers, who feel their views have been largely ignored in the push to upgrade public education. Teachers' union leaders say sentiment among their members is so negative about Gist, that goal would be difficult to achieve without a change in leadership at the State Department of Education.
There is also some evidence that public support for at least one of Gist's major programs may be waning. Last year, lawmakers rolled back an initiative to include standardized test scores as a requirement for high school graduation. While the rule pre-dated Gist's tenure, she argued strongly for letting it take effect in 2014. The Board of Education is now considering a pause until 2020.