New principal takes reins of St. Mary Catholic School Mustangs
GAINESVILLE — Kim Otto, the new principal of St. Mary Catholic School in Gainesville, begins each school day helping unload students from cars. “I want to let them know that I’m glad they are here,” she explained.
Likewise, she is glad to be at the 128-year-old institution. She said, “I wake up every morning and thank the Lord that I’ve been given this opportunity. It’s such a blessing. I truly feel that He called me, and I pray that He will work through me to do His will.”
When Otto became principal on July 1, she brought 32 years of experience as a teacher, principal, and director of special education in the Gainesville and Lindsay school districts. Plus, for years she taught catechesis and sacramental preparation classes at St. Mary Church, where she’s been a parishioner for 40 years. The church, founded in 1879, is just across the street from the PreK3 through eighth grade campus.
Coming from the public school system, the educator described an “Aha moment” she experienced early in her new position. She realized, “At the church, CCD lasts one hour, but at St. Mary, we have all day long. Oh, my word, we can intertwine excellence in education with the students’ spiritual development. We integrate faith into every subject.”
Having lived in Gainesville since she was nine, Otto said she was always aware that the school produced “well-rounded people” who were consistently among the top students when they transitioned to Gainesville High School. In fact, Otto married a St. Mary Mustang. She observed, “This school has a lot of respect in the community.
“The kids here are prepared for the world, for the next stage in school. I see St. Mary students graduate from high school and college and they come back and get active in the church community. They are leaders in the community and the church,” she said.
In fact, she continued, at least half a dozen teachers at St. Mary graduated from the school, and the school’s football team is coached by two volunteers who are also alumni.
Otto wants to continue that tradition of living the faith and passing it on. She said, “We want to produce lifelong learners, not just in their academics but in their Catholic faith.” Community service, frequent prayer, and the practice of “loving one another, just like Jesus wants us to do” help foster the students’ spiritual development.
The mother of three and grandmother of three plans to bring more exposure to the Gainesville school through her involvement in the community. Her goal is to sustain a strong enrollment so more children can receive the benefits of a Catholic education — benefits that begin with a principal so glad to see them that she meets them at their car.