“It was a good time. I enjoyed the opportunity to teach a lot of talented kids,” said Artie Gross, reflecting on a more than three-decade music teaching career, much of it spent at Shoreham-Wading River.
Gross, who has been a mainstay in the Shoreham-Wading River school district as a middle school vocal music teacher for the past 35 years, retired at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year.
“He was the ultimate professional.”
— Kevin O’Brien
“I just knew it was time,” he said. “Thirty-five years is a good number.”
Gross said that since he was a kid he knew he had a passion for music. As a young man he remembered constantly playing guitar and singing.
“I would bring my guitar to school — I was the class musician, I got involved in some of the school’s shows and plays,” he said.
When it came time to decide what he wanted to pursue as a career, Gross said he knew his parents wouldn’t pay for guitar lessons.
“It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to school to be a guitar performance major,” the Port Jefferson resident said.
Despite that, Gross found his answer while being in a high school chorus class.
“My high school chorus teacher made such an impression on me and I was like ‘This is what I want to do,’” said Gross.
After graduating high school, he went to the University of Rhode Island for one year before transferring to SUNY Buffalo to complete his bachelor’s in music education. Gross would then go get his master’s degree at Ithaca College.
From there, Gross got his first gig teaching in the Bethpage school district, filling in for a music teacher who was out sick for the year.
“From February to June of that year I was full-time teaching strings,” he said. “I ended helping out with shows and doing a little bit of singing.”
The following year, Gross initially thought he would be going back to Bethpage but the district told him it was now a brand-new position and would bring him down to starting sub-salary.
“They told me I’d be teaching seven elementary school classes a day and I was like, this doesn’t sound good,” he said.
While Gross ultimately decided not to stay at Bethpage, he had heard there was an opening for a music teacher at SWR and called to see if the job was still available.
“They told me it was still available. The superintendent didn’t like the person we sent up,” he said. “I met with the assistant principal and principal — and boom, I was hired that day. Just a few days before the school year [in 1984].”
Gross said during his first year he wanted to build up the chorus program in the middle school. After one year it went up from 48 kids to more than 100 kids participating.
After his first year in the district, Gross began splitting time at the high school and middle school as a traveling teacher. During his time at the high school he was involved in music direction for shows as well as taking charge of the chorus. Starting in 1990, he came back to the middle school full-time.
Linda Jutting, a former orchestra teacher at SWR, first met Gross during his first year on the job in 1984.
“It wasn’t until 2002, when I came back to the district, that I worked with him at the middle school for 15 years until I retired,” she said.
Jutting said her own three children had Gross as a teacher and said he had an amazing work ethic.
“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students,” she said. “He went above and beyond.”
Gross said he had a strong passion for what he did and wanted to share it with the kids.
“I think one of my strengths is being able to connect with middle school kids and treat them like young adults,” he said. “I think one of the most important things is believing in them and getting them to believe in themselves.”
“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students.”
— Linda Jutting
Kevin O’Brien, district band director at SWR, said he can’t say enough good things about Gross.
“I worked with Artie in the same building for 12 years. He mentored and helped me during my first couple of years in the district,” he said. “He was the ultimate professional.”
Gross mentioned when he retired, he received a signed poster from former students. He realized all the people he had affected positively.
“I was just doing my job, I didn’t think I was doing anything special,” he said. “One girl told me, ‘I became a social worker because of the way you treated me.’”
Gross said he is looking forward to practicing playing his guitar more and hopes to visit his children in Wyoming and Australia. The Port Jefferson resident also hopes to be involved in the middle school shows in the future and is currently giving private lessons.
“I had a good career. I got to share something that I loved, which was music,” he said.