Held in conjunction with a regularly scheduled teacher in-service day, the event began with a tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and how his lessons can help guide students even today.
"Today is a day to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream of what our civil rights guarantee to each of us," Gross said. "It's fitting to use Martin Luther King's words, 'I have a dream' because that's what I see for the vision and mission of this district," Gross said. "I see the vision of USD 234 as making the dreams come true for each and every one of us, and especially our students."
"I want each and every one of our students to have choices in life upon graduation," Gross said. "I want them to be prepared for college and career, so that they can choose what it is they want to do."
Gross arranged for question and comment cards to be distributed to attendees and said those turned in would be addressed in the near future.
"It's a way for you to have your voice be heard," Gross said. "This will be a major factor in where the district is headed."
Gross also handed out cards for audience members willing to serve on strategic planning action teams and asked which committees they would be willing to serve on. Goal areas include curriculum/instruction/assessment, long-range facility planning, community, parent and community engagement, technology and recruitment/retention of highly effective staff.
Gross then presented USD 234 profile data she has compiled, which shows steadily decreasing enrollments, a drop in both white and black students, a rise in Hispanic and Asian students, an increase in economically disadvantaged youngsters and a decrease in graduation rates over the past few years of 89.5 percent to 80.5 percent.
Gross also commented on state assessment scores.
"As a district, our scores have declined," Gross said. "That's not where we want to be."
Gross listed curriculum and instruction as a priority and said she would like to see individual learning plans for each student at some point. She also emphasized instituting a parent engagement plan for each building in the district.
"I think parents care. I think parents just don't know how to help," Gross said. "We need to broaden our scope. There is a role to play and it takes all of us."
She noted the district is in need of many technology upgrades, but she would like to see a long-range plan for the use of any technology available, including professional development so staff can make the most of any new technology purchases.
On recruiting and retention, Gross said there are already a lot of highly effective staff members in the district, but some will be retiring.
"Our beginning teaching salary is near the bottom for our surrounding area," Gross said. "If we expect to attract the best and the brightest... we have to do something to be able to attract them."
In her facilities report, Business Manager Susan Brown said it has been 32 years since any major renovations have been made to FSHS and that the district has "very little" reserves.
She also said they are working on a refinancing of general option bonds that would save the district about $85,000.
"But that will get used up pretty quickly," Brown said.
Brown said she sees three options for long-range planning: budget cuts, raising taxes and finding creative ways to be more effective.
Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lindsay Madison said if the community and district work together, "We can put youth on a pathway to a better future."
City Manager Dave Martin emphasized the importance of schools to a community and said a skilled labor force is the "single most" important factor in attracting new businesses.
Bourbon County Commissioner Barbara Albright, retired Fort Scott Middle School principal, said everyone must work together to make Fort Scott schools successful.
"I am definitely a cheerleader for education. Tomorrow, go back and love those kids with all your heart," Albright told teachers.