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Ex-Bush Official Named to Replace Gist, Who Plans to Head R.I. Schools

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty named a former Bush administration official yesterday as his state superintendent of education, replacing Deborah A. Gist, who has resigned to become Rhode Island education commissioner.

Kerri L. Briggs, former assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education under Margaret Spellings, will manage the $380 million agency. The agency's responsibilities include special education, distributing federal grants and setting academic standards.

"She will be an amazing addition to an already fabulous team," Fenty (D) said at a news conference.

Gist's departure had been rumored for months. Appointed by former mayor Anthony A. Williams in 2004 to run the District's small state education office, she became state superintendent when Fenty assumed control of the public school system in 2007.

But her influence was limited by her peculiar status under the terms of the mayoral takeover, which made her, in effect, a state superintendent without a state. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, a Fenty appointee, has day-to-day control of public schools and has been the dominant force in school change. On the government's organizational chart, Gist reported to Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso.

Last year, Gist asserted that she had authority over Rhee's plans to restructure schools deemed to be failing under the No Child Left Behind law. But she was overruled by D.C. lawyers. Her name has surfaced in several recent national searches for superintendents, including in St. Louis.

The seamless timing of the transition -- Briggs was named just hours after word of Gist's Rhode Island appointment was made public -- strongly suggested that plans for a change had been in place for some time. Briggs joined the D.C. government several weeks ago as a special assistant to Reinoso.

Fenty and Reinoso saluted Gist for her work in building a state agency largely from scratch. Reinoso called the Office of the State Superintendent for Education "the house that Deb built."

D.C. State Board of Education President Lisa Raymond said she regretted Gist's move: "I'm sad. It's a big loss. I don't want to say she was wasted here, but she will have a tremendous impact in Rhode Island because the state superintendent's role there is very powerful."

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