Richard Gross will continue to lead the West Valley School District as superintendent following a Feb. 6 unanimous decision by the district’s school board hiring committee.
Gross was hired as interim superintendent for the 2023-24 school year following the departure of former superintendent Cindy Risher. The school board elected not to renew Risher’s contract in April 2023, less than one year into her tenure. The decision surprised Risher and members of the school board.
Prior to serving as West Valley interim superintendent, Gross was the principal of West Valley Elementary School and was a teacher and administrative intern at Hedges Elementary School in Kalispell.
He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in elementary education and a bachelor’s in business management from the University of Montana.
Gerald Chouinard, superintendent of the Hot Springs School District, also interview for the position.
“I feel very honored, and I feel like it is a privilege to be selected,” Gross told the Beacon on Thursday. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve got a lot of challenges, but we will find solutions to those challenges.”
Gross said his first priority as superintendent is to stabilize West Valley’s finances, as the district’s budget has been stretched thin in recent years due to unprecedented student enrollment growth.
Over the past decade, the West Valley School District has reported a 40% enrollment increase, or 217 additional students. In 1987, there were less than 200 students enrolled in the district. The number grew to 546 students by 2013, then 763 students by 2022.
With larger and larger class sizes, West Valley has been forced to adopt space-saving measures and cut back on services for students.
Despite the challenges brought on by growing enrollment, Gross is optimistic about the years to come, saying that the district is on “the right side of hope now.”
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