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Long-standing NASD director announces retirement plans

She’s the “$6 million woman.”

Unlike “The Six Million Dollar Man,” the science-fiction television show that aired 1973-78 and starred Lee Majors as a bionic man with superpowers, Dr. Kathleen E. Ott is very much a real person.

Her superpower is also real: securing grant funding.

During her 13-year tenure (2007-20) as Northampton Area School District’s director of data, grants and special programs, Ott is credited with securing $6 million in competitive grants for the district.

NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik doesn’t take Ott for granted.

“Her work sometimes goes unknown by the general public, but as you can see, she has done much for the students, staff and families in the district for more than 21 years,” Kovalchik said of Ott in an Oct. 19 email.

The NASD Board of Education voted at its Sept. 28 meeting to approve the resignation of Ott for retirement, effective Dec. 31.

At most any time other than during the COVID-19 pandemic, there might have been a reception, with cookies, cake and coffee at the board meeting in honor of Ott’s retirement.

Ott may have even baked the cake, as she has done on some previous occasions at NASD school board meetings.

Though she’s leaving the school district, Ott plans to continue her business, Kathy Bakes Cakes.

“I’ve been baking cakes for 46 years,” Ott said before the Oct. 12 NASD school board meeting. “The wedding cake I just did was the equivalent of 10 cakes. It was so big that I had to have someone help me carry it out of the house.”

Ott, of South Whitehall Township, baked a Turkey Day cake for the senior class breakfast and three-tiered cakes for the Bury the Hatchet dinner to commemorate the annual Thanksgiving Day game between Northampton Area High School Konkrete Kids and Catasauqua High School Rough Riders varsity football teams.

Of her decision to retire, Ott said, “I just decided that I had so much still to do that it was time to move on to the next phase of my life.”

Ott has four children and eight grandchildren.

“I’m with family a lot,” she said.

Ott was Northampton Area High School’s principal from 1999 to 2007, and she was Emmaus High School’s assistant principal 1993-99.

Ott received a Doctor of Education-school administration from Widener University in 2001; a Master of Education-secondary education in biology from Lehigh University in 1990; and a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from Kutztown University in 1986.

At NASD, she has had the recipe for grant writing. In addition to $6 million in competitive grants, Ott shepherded $21 million in federal and state grants to NASD coffers.

The list of grants secured by Ott is voluminous. In an Oct. 19 phone interview, Ott mentioned several near and dear to her heart.

• Keystones to Opportunity grant for literacy provided NASD $3.25 million over five years.

• Keystone Kids Prekindergarten (now Head Start and Pre-K Counts)

“That was the program that started our pre-K in the district,” Ott said in the phone interview, adding, “We’d been doing it on our own for four years. We built it from one pre-K program class to four pre-K program classes.”

• Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency provided two grants totaling $750,000 for five full-time counselors for students experiencing trauma impact in their lives.

• Grants helped start Washington’s Crossing, an alternative education program.

“We put together the program for Washington’s Crossing, an at-risk program,” Ott said in the phone interview. “It was very successful.”

Ott also has obtained grants to cope with the COVID-19 impact on the district.

“Recently, she completed grants, which secured the district over $1 million, for COVID-related materials,” Kovalchik said.

Kovalchik and Ott have had a long association in NASD.

“I first started working with Kathy in 1999. Kathy was named the high school principal, and I was the assistant principal at the time,” Kovalchik said. “From the first time that I worked with her, in 1999, I was amazed by her work ethic, genuine care for students and staff and her overall goal to improve the educational opportunities for students. Kathy has always been focused on improving student academics, but she has also been focused on assisting students reach their potential in all areas of life. She always put the students first.

“In her current position, she has accomplished much for the students, staff and community of the Northampton Area School District,” Kovalchik said. “Since taking over the grant-writing position, she has secured $21 million. Some of the money secured has been used for safety equipment, anti-bullying programs, full-day kindergarten, literacy and pre-K programs, computer science, trauma-impacted counseling, anti-drug and alcohol counseling, equity and understanding differences and much more.

“Besides securing funds for the district, she has worked to lead the district in the EL, homeless, home-school, pre-K, student teacher coordination with local universities and served as the data coordinator, which includes the coordination of the required Keystone exams and PSSA testing,” Kovalchik said.

Ott established the NASD alumni directory, which in two editions set up a database of 8,000 alumni emails.

She was a founder of Northampton Konkrete Kids Educational Foundation.

“Kathy is a mother, educator, professional and, most importantly, a friend to me and countless others,” Kovalchik said. “Her commitment to excellence and dedication will be truly missed, but even though she is pursuing the next chapter of her life, she will always be a true Konkrete Kid!”

PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEIN From left, Northampton Area School District Board of Education President David Gogel, NASD Director of Data, Grants and Special Programs Dr. Kathleen E. Ott, who retires Dec. 31, and NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik gather for a photo at the Oct. 12 school board meeting.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Dr. Kathleen E. Ott, who is retiring from NASD, shows off the cake and cupcakes she baked for the Bury the Hatchet dinner and NAHS senior breakfast commemorating the 2006 Turkey Day football game.