I write today to commemorate the man who inspired the Pennsylvania Mathematics Initiative: Kenneth I. Gross. Ken passed away in September, after a long life of mathematical and education contributions. Chief among the education is his founding of the Vermont Mathematics Initiative, which served as a model for PMI. When George Andrews was looking for a program that could make a difference in the quality of elementary math education, it was VMI’s content-focused approach that he found most promising.
I first visited Ken’s program in the summer of 2012 when the idea of starting a similar program at Penn State was proposed to me. He and the rest of the facilitators welcomed me with open arms, and within an hour or two I had me helping with the workshop. It was inspiring to see the excitement and enthusiasm that everyone shared, and I am happy that I have been able to capture that to bring to Pennsylvania. Ken generously offered me a chance to “run with the big kids,” so to speak, when he invited me to co-teach a week-long workshop with him and Cyndi Garvan in Levy County, Florida in 2013. This was my trial by fire, as I was to run our first PMI workshop a month later with the same materials. I remember the experience and car-trips with Ken fondly.
Ken shared his materials freely with me, for the sake the teachers of Pennsylvania, and was willing to gamble on a young buck like me to modify and rewrite large parts of them. He asked me to act as co-author for the textbook he was writing for VMI, but I regrettably could not devote the time it needed. I wish now that I could have spent more time working on it with him, even if we hadn’t finished it in time, just to have had more time to talk with him and learn from his experiences.
While I only knew Ken for five years, he has been a tremendous influence on my life and PMI in general. He always had time to talk, and took an interest in my life outside my career. He sent me congratulation cards when my daughters were born, and always spoke fondly of his own two daughters. He was a wonderful mentor, a terrific advisor, and a good friend. He absence will be felt as PMI continues in his memory.