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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

School chief optimistic about U-234

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

USD 234 Superintendent Diane Gross poses for a photo in her office at the district office on Tuesday.(Laurie Sisk/Tribune)
Almost halfway through her first year as superintendent of the USD 234 School District, the best word to describe Diane Gross' outlook is "optimistic."

A large, steel blue placard sits on her desk at the USD 234 offices reading "Land of Opportunity." That simple phrase might best illustrate Gross' attitude as she takes on the challenge of bettering a school district with consistently declining enrollments and one that is facing -- along with many other Kansas schools -- possible state revenue cuts.

"We have lots of opportunities," Gross said. "Some people might say, 'how are we going to overcome all these different challenges?' I don't even call them challenges, I just think they are opportunities for us to learn and improve what we are doing. I think that helps keep a positive attitude."

Even before applying for the deputy superintendent's job in Liberal, the post she held before coming to Fort Scott, Gross was looking at opportunities to be a school chief.

"Not just for the title of superintendent," Gross said, "but to be somewhere where it was a good fit for the skills, talent and knowledge I brought to the table for the needs of that community and that school district."

Gross said all the information she had gathered about Fort Scott led her to believe it would be a good fit.

"When they talked about someone that was going to be visible in the community and have knowledge of curriculum and instruction and provide direction for instructional leadership, I felt like that was a pretty strong background for what I brought to the table," Gross said.

Gross said even before applying the superintendent's job here, she researched articles and school board minutes to see what the main issues were.

"I looked to see what I could find," Gross said. "I was fortunate to know people that grew up in this community and had worked with the school district and shared some information. I took a chance -- kind of went with a gut feeling that I had that it would be a good fit. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be, and if it was not, I had a job that I greatly enjoyed and people that I greatly enjoyed working with out in Liberal. If things hadn't worked out, I would probably still be there. I'm probably happier here just because I do think it's a good fit."

Gross said coming into the position, one of the greatest challenges she faces is money.

"Certainly, and this is no secret, finances, reduced revenues and declining enrollment, those are challenges that I'd not been faced with before," Gross said. "Other than the revenue piece -- everyone across the state is dealing with that -- but the declining enrollment was something that was new to me, because I had come from a couple of districts where the enrollment was increasing and we were seeing additional funds every year. So that was a challenge, but at the same time the more I talked with people in the community or some of my colleagues in the district, the more I saw the enthusiasm and the desire to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps."

There are lots of opportunities here and many experiences Gross feels will help her grow and continue to be engaged in education and share her passion for the profession she enjoys.

Gross said she believes educators have a service to provide to this community -- to create the most educated, talented, knowledgeable citizens they can.

"I think then, in turn, whether it's from the city or the county and we are looking at economic growth or development, and there are businesses or industries looking for places to relocate, where there is a pool of talent to pick and choose from. The more that we can create that well-educated population, the more choices they have and the more attractive it becomes to business and industry," Gross said.

She's had several conversations with City Manager Dave Martin and Fort Scott Community College President Clayton Tatro.

"I think there is a strong desire for all of us to work together and it was made apparent from the time I came here for my interview to create a positive image that people take pride in and I see our teachers promoting that day in and day out in the classroom," Gross said. "Our building leaders are doing the same thing. I think we are just trying to create a team where we can create that positive image that people really want to be here and that we have something to offer that maybe other schools and districts don't have to offer."

Gross said key to that is continuing to adapt to the changing needs of society.

"The jobs that were available 10 years ago aren't the same jobs that are going to be available now or even 10 years down the road," Gross said. "We have to create the skills in our kids so that they are able to continue to learn and are able to adapt to their environment."

Gross said she believes the board has communicated a great amount of confidence in her thus far.

"I feel they have given me a great amount of latitude to do the things that they hired me to do," Gross said.

She has high expectations of USD 234's educators and administrators.

"My job is to hold them accountable, " Gross said. "But I also expect them to hold me accountable ... We're working with creating our future here."

Gross said her vision for the district hasn't wavered since she started.

"All of our kids come to us with desires ... Our job is to help guide them in establishing those goals and those visions and those dreams and ultimately to help those dreams come true," Gross said. "That sends a pretty strong message that we are here for the kids."

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