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Robert Gross: Passionate Advocate, Inclusive Leader and Listener

Salisbury Superintendent Robert Gross, who died Wednesday, was known as a great listener and approachable leader who was passionate about public education and Salisbury schools.

Shortly after taking over as superintendent of in 2010, started a student advisory council that he would meet with periodically about student concerns and suggestions.

And then he did the hardest thing for a grown-up with a captive audience of kids: he resisted the temptation to preach at them.

“He didn’t talk, he listened to what the kids had to say,” recalls Christine Stafford, Salisbury’s business manager.

That kind of initiative for improving schools was typical of a man who led by giving everyone involved a voice, those who knew him say. after being for an undisclosed illness. In late April, he reportedly collapsed at a gym.

Stafford said Gross had a way of personally connecting to people from all walks of life and that included preferring sit-down meetings with local legislators rather than sending letters to convey district concerns. 

“Bob was a joy to work with,” said Tom Mantz, school board vice president, in an e-mail. “He spoke from his heart and he was passionate about education.  He could be trusted above all else.  I will miss him terribly.” 

Mantz said Gross not only listened to people but also acted on their advice. 

“One of our secretaries offered a suggestion to reach out to new families in the district, and he implemented her suggestion without hesitation,” Mantz said. 

Stafford said Gross’ broad range of experience in education as a teacher and administrator enabled him to look at decisions from different viewpoints.

“He always encouraged everyone to be a lifelong learner,” Stafford said. “Some of our staff are taking college courses because of his influence.”

Gross was a strong supporter of the district’s Teaching and Learning 2014 initiative that focuses on integrating technology into the curriculum and improving students’ “21st century skills,” according to Dr. Louise Beauchemin, assistant superintendent. Part of that was “Bob was instrumental in forging a partnership with Apple to further improve our district wide efforts,” she said.

“While Bob was in Salisbury for only a brief time, his contributions as a true and as an advocate for children were large,” Beauchemin said in an e-mail. “He will certainly be missed.”

“I was very impressed with him,” said Jen Brown, a parent who is involved in the schools. “I had a concern and I met with him for almost two hours. He had school officials waiting but he listened and took notes and gave me suggestions. He had a passion and he cared about our kids, I can tell you that.”

In 2011, Gross joined a group of superintendents from five counties that to offer some public school students vouchers to attend private schools. The group also criticized the way the state funds charter and cyber schools.

At the time, he cited a Morning Call investigation into the financial troubles of Vitalistic Therapeutic Charter School of the Lehigh Valley to take issue with the lack of state oversight of such schools. “It exposes the fact that from an accountability standpoint, there’s minimal if any financial accountability or oversight from the state,” he told the Call.

After seeing Salisbury schools lose students and funding to cyber charter schools, Gross pushed the The Virtual Academy of Salisbury Township or VAST is scheduled to begin in August. The school will provide a Salisbury education and diploma for those students who choose not to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar schools, Mantz said.

Gross came to Salisbury schools after decades in education elsewhere. He began his teaching career in 1980 as a band director and music teacher at Garnet Valley High School and later took a similar job at Emmaus High School.

In subsequent jobs at the West Shore School District in Lewisberry, he worked his way up to assistant superintendent and then moved on to become associate superintendent of Bethlehem Area School district from 2005-2008. He served as superintendent of Kutztown Area School District before taking the job at Salisbury. 

He is survived by his wife Maryann, son Kyle R. of Wind Gap, daughter Katrina DelVecchio of Wind Gap and three grandsons. 

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held 11 a.m. Monday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bethlehem, with visitation 3-7 p.m. Sunday at the Pearson Funeral Home in Bethlehem.  

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