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Live Oak High School grad one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year

Megan Gross served as head color guard as well as a member of the art and interact clubs as a senior at Live Oak High School

Published June 7 – June 20, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Melissa Hartman

Megan Gross

When Megan Gross attended Morgan Hill’s Live Oak High School, her parents recognized that she was more organized and involved than the average high school student.

Gross was a part of the Emerald Regime Marching Band and Color Guard, serving as head color guard her senior year, while simultaneously being member and then president of both the art and Interact clubs. Gross’s mother, Noreen, credits her daughter’s skills of being able to handle whatever is thrown her way as one of the most vital reasons she was nominated for National Teacher of the Year in the annual competition put on by Voya Financial.
“You truly need (the skill of time management). In special education, there are a lot of reports to write, (you need to) be able to modify lessons for each student as needed, plus regular lesson planning and other job responsibilities,” Gross’ mother said.

Gross, 36, learned in February last year she had been selected Teacher of the Year at Del Norte High School in Poway. Since then she advanced until she was a top four finalist in the Voya Financial program. Through the five phases she moved through, Gross had to complete five to seven essays and a whole new interview process to be considered for the honor. As California’s Teacher of the Year, she will be traveling through January of 2018 as one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year.

Gross works as a special education teacher for students with autism spectrum disorders. She helps to maintain a cohesive, inclusive education for students with disabilities in classes other than just elective classes.

Megan Gross and one of her students, Luke, show some school spirit in Megan’s classroom at Del Norte High School in San Diego.
Morgan Hill Life file photo

Del Norte High School students with significant disorders do not often have the option to be educated in the same classroom for subjects such as biology, history, foreign languages and health. To promote the practice to other high schools across the country, Gross co-authored a novel titled “Inclusion Toolbox” that explores solutions to getting special education students into general education classes.

Both during her time as a collegian at University of California Davis and shortly after graduation, Gross had the opportunity to work at homes for those with disabilities and she fell in love with the field. “I loved my time each day supporting individuals and had never had a job before filled with such joy, challenges and rewards,” she said.

Gross taught in the Bay Area for five years before moving to San Diego County to support her husband in being hired into his dream job at a biotech company. Gross said she didn’t know it then, but moving to San Diego gave her the chance to be hired into her own dream job at Del Norte.

For her achievements, Gross has been recognized in her own county at a San Diego State University football game, by the County Office of Education, by the Parent Teacher Association, and by the Freemasons. As Teacher of the Year, she even got to throw out the first pitch at the San Diego Padres game. San Diego also hosts “Salute to Teachers” presented by Cox Communications, which Gross described as “literally the Oscars for teachers.”

Gross’ mother remembers the joy she and her husband, Dale, felt as they watched “Salute to Teachers” from their own home. “I think we were both crying and screaming at the TV, and just so proud,” Noreen said. “Then the next morning she was on one of San Diego’s morning shows, which we were also able to stream. She was famous in our eyes.”

Gross’ life became a whirlwind after the announcement, as along with the events put on by San Diego County, she was flown out to Washington, D.C., with her fellow State Teachers of the Year for a week. Gross and her colleagues visited the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, the U.S. Department of Education and the White House where they met the President Donald Trump, First Lady Melanie Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Gross credits much of her success in this process to her school and her instructional assistants who have been diligent in keeping her classroom running while attending to media attention and speaking at different events like the CA PTA Convention, California Gold Ribbon School Ceremony for Orange County and San Diego County and her district’s employee recognition dinner.

The community asks a lot about what is happening with Teacher of the Year and is very proud of the kind of person that the public schools of Morgan Hill can produce, Noreen said. Gross has been highly supported and welcomed by Jackson Academy of Math and Music, where her mother is employed as a paraprofessional educator with the Morgan Hill Unified School District. Gross was even offered a job there.

As Gross finishes her ninth year of her career as an educator, she justifies how hard she works with the small triumphs she gets to experience when a breakthrough happens with a student.

“I teach students with significant disabilities and their achievements happen at a very individualized pace,” she said. “So it’s incredible to see a student make the connection between what I’ve been teaching to actually applying independently for the first time — especially if we’ve been working towards that goal for a month or even a year.”