Courtney Sale Ross, who founded the Ross School in East Hampton more than 20 years ago, is officially plotting a new course.
Going forward, she will spend increasing amounts of time moored not to East Hampton but enjoying the freedom of the open seas — as she plans to travel the world on a private yacht.
In late January, Mrs. Ross, as she prefers to be called, convened a meeting with faculty and staff to inform them of her plans. For many faculty members, it had been several months since she had been seen on either the Lower School or Upper School’s campus.
During her protracted absence last fall, rumors began circulating concerning a possible illness. To the relief of many, Mrs. Ross appeared in good health in January.
While she did not specifically address any rumors concerning her whereabouts, she did share a picture of her yacht and in so doing, hinted at what was likely to unfold during the next chapter of her life.
In recent years, though faculty members do not see much of Mrs. Ross when it comes to the day-to-day functioning of the school, she has remained an ever-present influence. Further, as not only the school’s founder but also its primary benefactor, Mrs. Ross’s forthcoming absence is but the latest ripple in an environment described by some parents as chaotic and unstable.
At the staff meeting on Jan. 31, which convened in the Upper School’s lecture hall, she expressed confidence in the school’s leadership, intimating that she didn’t need to be there as often as she might have in years past. Also, while she planned to travel by boat, she assured faculty and staff members that she would remain plugged in and connected to what was happening at each of the school’s two campuses.
Requests to speak directly to Mrs. Ross and to Gregg Maloberti, the interim head of the school, were both denied.
Patti Silver, who chairs Ross’s board of overseers, serves on its board of trustees, and is also a parent, provided a statement through the school’s New York City-based marketing and communications firm.
In the statement, she affirmed that a late January faculty and staff meeting had indeed taken place, with Mrs. Ross informing the group “that she plans to spend a great deal of time during the next few years traveling and revisiting her passion for exploring diverse cultures and environments, which were the genesis of the Ross School.”
Ms. Silver said that she also discussed issues related to the “school’s fiscal and academic stability as evidenced by the school’s new leadership team, the expansion of the board of overseers, and the phenomenal start to the academic year at all grade levels.”
She concluded the statement by noting: “Even though Mrs. Ross will be on campus less in person, as chairman of the board of trustees, she will maintain a digital presence through media and technology and continue to lead the school’s mission to be at the forefront of innovation and excellence.”
At 64, Mrs. Ross appears to be making more than a few changes as far as her geography is concerned.
A longtime resident of East Hampton, Mrs. Ross recently put her Georgia Pond estate on the market for $75 million. It is a change in location confined to not only the East End.
Last spring, after being listed for several years, her Park Avenue duplex apartment on the Upper East Side finally sold for $52.5 million. It set a record for the most expensive co-op sale in Manhattan’s history. Three years ago, Mrs. Ross purchased a $7.3 million loft in Tribeca, preferring instead to live in a smaller apartment downtown.
The Ross School officially got its start in 1991, when she and her late husband, the former Time Warner chairman Stephen J. Ross, started it as a sort of home-school experiment for their only daughter, Nicole, and two of her friends. It has since grown to serve approximately 500 students from pre-nursery through 12th grade — including a growing number of international boarding students.
While faculty and staff have been informed of Mrs. Ross’s travel plans, parents had yet to receive any official notice.
The handful of parents interviewed didn’t seem all that concerned by her shifting coordinates, saying that checks could still be written and that money could still be wired from aboard a yacht.
Some even expressed a sense of relief, pointing out that her leadership often carried with it a certain degree of impulsiveness — whether evident in making Mandarin mandatory for all Ross students last year, delaying the distribution of computers after deciding that carpets suddenly needed to be replaced, or in the high rate of attrition among many of the school’s teachers and administrators.
Despite expressing gratitude for Mrs. Ross’ largesse, nearly all parents expressed a desire for the school to achieve more sound and stable financial footing. Going forward, many hoped for an endowment that would help protect both the school’s growth and allow for expansion in the years to come.