By Sara Nelson
Mitch Gross cares deeply about helping his students reach their full potential.
To honor his many contributions to education, Gross, a social studies teacher at Iowa City West High School, received one of the University of Iowa College of Education’s most prestigious awards, the Yager Educational Accomplishment Award, for his work in Iowa City schools.
The Yager Educational Accomplishment Honor recognizes outstanding achievements and innovation of University of Iowa College of Education graduates in K-12 learning. The award is funded by Science Education Professor Emeritus Robert E. Yager, who also received a Master of Arts in 1953 and a doctorate in 1957 from Iowa. Yager helped the university earn an international reputation as a leader in science education.
"I would like to thank Dr. Yager not only for this generous award, but also for recognizing the stupendous work that Hawkeye teachers do in the community," says Gross.
To honor Gross, he received a framed print and a $2,000 honorarium at an awards luncheon ceremony Tuesday, November 7th, at the College of Education.
Gross’ path to teaching was not a conventional one. He first worked in a successful governmental career. However, he made the decision to pursue a new opportunity after some life changes.
After speaking with College of Education Social Studies Education Professor Gregory Hamot, who nominated him for this recognition, Gross decided that he wanted to teach, combining his knowledge of government and politics with education and returning to the UI College of Education as a non-traditional student.
In 2002 Gross completed licensure in social studies education at the University of Iowa College of Education. He also completed a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership at the College of Education in 2011. Gross is thankful to his former mentors, social studies education professor Gregory Hamot, and social studies education professor emeritus Bruce Fehn, for helping him become the teacher he is today.
This is Gross’s 15th year as a teacher and coach at Iowa City West High School. Throughout his time at West High School, Gross has implemented programs to raise student curiosity and aspirations, including his initiation of an Advanced Placement United States History curriculum, and the creation of United States history and economics instructional materials tailored to the differentiated needs of all learners.
“We in public education are, right now, more important than ever. It’s our responsibility to create worthy citizens, to make sure that students know that our planet is vulnerable, to make sure that they know that our Muslim and refugee students are an important piece of the American fabric, and to teach that the Civil War was fought over slavery and white supremacy,” Gross says. “ It’s up to us in the classroom to talk about these issues.”
Gross also serves as the Student Success Coordinator at West High School. In this role, he resolves disputes between students, and between faculty and students. He also develops policies to address chronic absenteeism of students, as well as policies to help students experience academic and social success at school.
“I am truly honored and humbled to have won the Yager Educational Accomplishment award. I honestly feel teachers have the best profession, because we truly get to make a difference every day,” Gross says. “We get to impact and change lives every single day.”
In addition to teaching, Gross is also the boys’ tennis coach at West High School. He was named conference Coach of the Year seven times, state Coach of the Year three times, and was a finalist for national Coach of the Year in 2008. His teams won seven state championships between 2005 and 2017.
“I can think of few, if any, UI graduates from our teacher education program who have achieved so much and positively touched so many young lives as Mitchell Gross,” says social studies education professor Greg Hamot. “He has inspired West High graduates to become teachers, and he continues to seek innovative ways to improve the education of his students as they approach adulthood in our democracy.”
Outside of school, Gross plays an active role in city government, and acted as the senior advisor to the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. He is an active member of the Iowa City Education Assocation, serving as Chief Negotiator since 2005, and co-president since 2015. Additionally, he is an active member of the Coralville City Council and has served as mayor pro tem since 2008.
UI College of Education Dean Daniel L. Clay praised Gross for his contributions and character, noting that his work honors Robert Yager’s legacy of innovation and helping all students learn.
“Mitch Gross is a perfect example of the excellence exemplified by our Hawkeye Teachers as leaders and contributors in schools and communities,” Clay says. “The work he does lives up to the Yager Educational Accomplishment Honor.”