CHARTING A COURSE: Fresh off receiving a new contract, R.I. Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist plans to move forward with efforts to close the state’s perceived skills gap.
PBN FILE PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
By Rhonda J. Miller
Armed with a new two-year contract, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist says she’s staying the course with her five-year plan to transform education in Rhode Island – including closing the skills gap.
With this month’s renewal of her contract, following criticism from teachers’ unions about the NECAP requirement and Gist’s leadership style, the commissioner said the state must do more to close the skills gap – the gap between available jobs and qualified workers - than just continue to push forward with education standards that include the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, as part of high school graduation requirements.
“There are many things we’re doing to close the skills gap,” Gist said last week. “In addition to having our students leave high school with a minimum level of skills, we need more students participating in post-secondary education. We’re not just competing with Massachusetts. We’re competing with the world.”
While coursework and capstone, or senior, projects are also part of high school graduation requirements, Gist said getting students a solid foundation through high school is just a start in building a skilled workforce that can help strengthen the state economy.
“In addition to entry-level people who have a strong work ethic and know how to work with others, job growth in the state - and the nation - requires post-secondary education,” said Gist. That could include traditional college, technical training or apprenticeships, she said.
The state Board of Education approved the two-year renewal of Gist’s contract on June 6, the day before the previous agreement – a three-year contract with a one-year extension – expired.
“I’m very enthusiastic about the two-year contract,” said Gist. “We’re going to continue tirelessly implementing the five-year strategic plan we developed working with parents, students, teachers and community and business leaders across the state.”