Amy Ott is giving back to her alma mater by embracing a new leadership position at Boylan Catholic High School. Learn how she’s made an impact on students, staff and the community this past year.
In 1987, Amy Ott was a fresh-faced teenager, having just graduated from Rockford Boylan Catholic High School, ready to take on the world.
“There was no place I’d rather be,” she says. “Boylan prepared me well for college and the next step in my life. Who I am today is due to my experience at Boylan. It taught me many things, including the importance of giving back through service. What’s fun about Boylan is the community it creates. I would say that half of my friends went to Boylan.”
Today, Ott is Boylan’s first president, having been hired by Bishop David Malloy a year ago. While it was an unexpected move, it’s one that Ott has come to fully embrace.
“I want to make our community a better place to live,” she says. “In every career move and volunteer opportunity, that’s my goal. This role gives me the opportunity to use my talents and skills and to share my passion for Boylan and help lead this school into the future.”
After graduating from Boylan, Ott earned an accounting degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and a master’s in business administration from Northern Illinois University. She’s a certified public accountant and an accredited airport executive. Ott served as the business manager at the Rock River Water Reclamation District for five years, before joining the Chicago Rockford International Airport in 2003.
As airport deputy director, Ott was responsible for finance, human resources, risk management and business development. During her 12 years, the airport experienced plenty of growth, including the return of passenger service, increased publicity in the region, and significant development and expansion of its campus.
“I enjoyed the ability to do so many things,” she says. “It’s an international-grade facility that has so much potential. Now you can sit at a restaurant and hear people talking about RFD. We created a buzz. We brought awareness to the airport and helped to grow it.”
The hunt for a Boylan president started three years ago, as a result of a 2007 strategic planning process that led to a recommendation that Boylan adopt a principal/president leadership model. The school had been operating under a principal leadership model – not principal/president – since it opened in 1960. In the new structure, Ott is responsible for the school’s finances, advancement, enrollment, Catholic identity, messaging and branding, while Principal Jerry Kerrigan concentrates on academics and operations.
Ott was no stranger to the Boylan family. For the past 10 years, she’s volunteered for a Boylan golf outing.
“Amy brought a unique background and skill set to the position of president,” says Michael Kagan, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Rockford. “Although she’s not a professional educator, she had the business acumen and knowledge of Boylan and the Rockford community that our search committee felt would greatly benefit the school. The role of president was quite different than any administrative position we have ever had in our Catholic school system.
“Amy’s role is much like that of a small college president focusing on promoting mission, vision, development and strategic planning,” he adds. “She brought a wealth of experience from the business world in the Rockford area. She has served on numerous community boards and has been involved in creating both short and long range plans. She has had a great deal of experience working with external constituents which we felt would serve her well in the position of president. And as a Boylan alum who was actively involved as a volunteer, she had ties to the current Boylan community.”
Ott was busy in the first year of her new role. She spent a majority of her time getting to know her staff. She worked on messaging and branding of the Boylan name. She updated the school’s website and updated the phone system. She was in the stands for many school sporting events, soaking up the atmosphere.
“Things are happening because of her leadership,” says Lynn Cuppini McConville, director of advancement. “We have an e-newsletter and a stronger social media presence. We’re telling our story more effectively. We’re a school that is defined by the Saturday morning newspaper. But to think of us as just a football or basketball power is just part of the story. Take a look at what our grads have done across the world. It’s quite a story and we want to tell it.”
Last January, Boylan dedicated the new Lou and Irene Bachrodt Center for Health and Fitness, an 1,800-square-foot addition at the school that includes a two-court practice gym for both athletics and physical education classes. The $3.5 million facility is named after two of the school’s earliest benefactors and supporters. The couple’s sons, Lou and Pat Bachrodt, donated $1 million to the school’s Imagine Comprehensive Campaign. More than 10,000 donors supported the entire campaign.
“She really has gotten out in the Rockford community and highlighted Boylan,” says Kagan. “Although Boylan has been a known commodity for many years it has not always ‘tooted its own horn’ as much as it could have. Amy is now doing that. She is also reaching out to more alumni than ever before, reconnecting them to their alma mater.”
Ott’s work, however, extends beyond the hallways of Boylan. She’s active in several professional and community organizations. Ott serves on the boards of the Northern Illinois Workforce Alliance, Rockford Chamber of Commerce, YMCA of Rock River Valley and the OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center advisory board. She’s active in the Transform Rockford initiative and is the former president of the YWCA board. She has received several community awards including Boylan’s Award for Alumni Excellence in 2012.
“I truly believe in giving back,” she says. “It’s a nice way to understand what’s going on in the community, and to stay connected.”
In her free time, Ott enjoys spending time with her husband of 20 years, Clinton, and their two sons, Brennan, a Boylan student, and Joseph. They travel, spend time with friends and play golf, a hobby Ott picked up in her 20s. “I’m not very good, but I have fun.”
Moving forward, Boylan’s strategic plan includes a series of goals, ranging from raising salaries to align with area public schools, growing advancement, completing facilities upgrades, and increasing enrollment, which stands at 910 students to start this new school year.
“I see Amy now and in the future really focusing on expanding the development and alumni programs, developing a long-term strategic plan for the school, both academically and facilities-wise, and expanding opportunities for any student who wants a Boylan education to be able to get one,” Kagan says.
Ott says she’s up to the task.
“There’s more competition for students than there was 15 years ago,” she says. “How do we stand out? How do we differentiate ourselves from the others? We need to make sure that we’re getting our own Catholic grade school students to come to the Catholic high school, and continue to sell the story of Boylan academic excellence, supportive family environment, and Catholic principles.
“Every day, at the airport, I couldn’t wait to get work,” she says. “I still feel that way.”