Superintendent Gwen Gross announces that she’ll retire at the end of the school year

Under Superintendent Gwen Gross’ stewardship, the Irvine Unified School District has produced stratospheric test scores in the face of an unprecedented fiscal crisis, introduced intervention programs designed to support the needs of each student, and taken a leadership role in conservation, sustainability and environmental education.

But all tenures ultimately come to an end, and on Friday, Dec. 3, Dr. Gross announced that her service as superintendent would conclude with her retirement in June 2011.

“My life in public education has been a thrill ride that has lasted nearly 40 years, and I am particularly proud to finish it in the Irvine Unified School District,” she wrote in an email to the staff. “I don’t have to tell you that this is a special place, full of dedicated professionals who have built world-class schools with wisdom, foresight and hard work. The spirit of this district was established long ago under founding superintendent Stan Corey, and I know it will endure with future generations of passionate educators.”

“I also know that the time is right for me to step down,” she wrote. “As many of you are aware, my husband, Jerry, has been retired for several years now, and we have so many new memories to create with a family that includes two beautiful grandchildren.”

Though she described the decision to retire in June as “bittersweet,” she said she had confidence that the Irvine Unified School District would be in great hands.

“This district is guided by five of the finest Board of Education members I’ve ever worked with, and their insight is among the reasons we are on solid financial footing relative to other school systems,” Dr. Gross said. “Moreover, IUSD has a tremendous leadership team in place, and it goes without saying that we have the most committed and talented staff.”

Dr. Gross joined the 27,000-student Irvine Unified School District in the fall of 2006 after serving as superintendent in the Manhattan Beach, Beverly Hills and Ojai unified school districts, as well as at the then-one-school Hermosa Beach City School District. Along the way, she was named one of the “Top 100 Educators in North America” and honored as the “2005 Superintendent of the Year” by Pepperdine University, where she served as an adjunct professor of education leadership for 10 years.

“Exhibiting boundless energy and an infectious passion for her work, Dr. Gross surged into Irvine four years ago with the stated philosophy that ‘the race for quality has no finish line,'” IUSD Board of Education President Sharon Wallin wrote in a recent nomination letter for a prestigious educational award. “Her ability to empower, inspire and motivate is perhaps only overshadowed by the fact that she is one of the most affable and approachable leaders to ever occupy the office of superintendent. Whether she’s talking to a classroom teacher, a parent or an influential political leader, Gwen genuinely takes the time to forge bonds in a way that brings this community closer, much to the benefit of our 27,000 students.”

Before taking on the role of schools chief, Dr. Gross was an elementary and middle grades teacher, a principal, a director of operations, and a faculty member at universities in the Midwest and on the West Coast.

She has also been active in scores of community and professional organizations, including the Association of California School Administrators. In addition to chairing ACSA’s annual symposium for new superintendents and the 2007 superintendent symposium, she served as the vice chair of the association’s State Superintendents’ Committee and has been named a Tri-County Superintendent of the Year. More recently, she served as president of Suburban School Superintendents, a national organization.

Together with several other superintendents, Dr. Gross has coauthored “Eight at the Top: A View Inside Public Education,” “Effective Superintendent-School Board Practices: Strategies for Developing and Maintaining Good Relationships With Your Board,” and “The Superintendent’s Planner: A Monthly Guide and Reflective Journal.”

Dr. Gross received her bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin, her master’s degree from the University of Akron, her doctorate degree from Kent State University and her postdoctoral certificate from Harvard University.

(Update: To read a story about Dr. Gross’ retirement plans in the Orange County Register, click here. To read Dr. Gross’ letter to staff on the Daily Pilot’s website, click here.)