Mars Area hires new school superintendent

May 21, 2020 Cranberry Local News

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Mark Gross

Months of searching for a superintendent for Mars Area School District ended with the appointment of Mark Gross, the current assistant superintendent for secondary education at Hempfield Area School District in Westmoreland County, Tuesday night.

Gross, who was approved for a five-year contract with a base salary of $172,000, will replace Wesley Shipley beginning July 1.

Shipley was originally hired in April 2015 under a four-year contract. The board extended Shipley's contract for a year in 2019. In January, it decided not to renew it beyond June 30.

In a virtual board meeting Tuesday night, board President John Kennedy said the process for selecting a new superintendent included input from district administration, teachers, staff and families. Tom Templeton, of the consulting firm Templeton Advantage, was hired by the school board in January to officially lead the search.

“We all had a day where (community members) could all meet with Tom Templeton,” Kennedy said. “Put their input in with him.”

Kennedy said Templeton brought the comments he gathered to the board to be reviewed. About 20 candidates were included in the first round of interviews, conducted via Zoom. Seven candidates were brought back for the second round, according to Kennedy. Three candidates made it to a third round of interviews.

When the board identified two potential hires, they were invited to spend a day with district administrators, teachers and staff on Zoom.

Kennedy said district employees involved in the virtual visit were asked to share their perspectives of the candidates. The two remaining candidates were invited to meet with district officials in-person following the interviews.

“That was pretty much how the search went,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said throughout the interview process, Gross was consistently ranked high by the school board.

“It seemed like every board member put (Gross) at the top of the list,” Kennedy said. “It was great for the board.”

“I thought it was a very rigorous process. It was very good,” said Gross, who was physically present at the meeting. “I'm excited to work with everyone.”

Eight of nine board members voted in favor of hiring Gross. Gordon Marburger, board treasurer, was absent from the meeting.

On Tuesday, the board also approved Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth McMahon's resignation, effective June 30, so she can be rehired under a five-year contract, effective July 1. Board members Megan Lenz and Christine Valenta voted against the motion.

In January, McMahon was asked by the board to resume her assistant superintendent duties while the district pursued a new superintendent. She had been acting as interim principal for the primary center and was replaced in that role by Adam Kostewicz, Mars Area Centennial School principal.

McMahon's new contract has a base salary of $139,365.20.

Kennedy told McMahon it's easy to see she's driven by “what is best for the kids.”

“I've always said, 'Give Dr. McMahon a gold star,'” Kennedy said. “She has a work ethic that not many people can keep up with.”

Rita Dorsch, board vice president, praised McMahon for her work leading up to the hiring of a new superintendent.

“Thank you for being the glue that's held this place together over the last two-and-a-half months,” Dorsch said.

Responding to questions from the public, board members said they'll discuss having dedicated principals for each of the district's five school buildings in the future.

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Samantha Beal

Samantha Beal