Four years after Cristo Rey St. Martin opened in Waukegan, IL, Fr. Charles Bolser, CSV — then its president — made a momentous decision: He hired Dr. Michael Odiotti to serve as principal.

“It was the best hire I ever made,” Fr. Bolser says. “He’s transformed that school — and the community.”

Dr. Michael Odiotti

Now, 13 years later, Dr. Odiotti’s leadership at the school is drawing statewide attention. Last week, he emerged from a record setting 121 nominations, to be named one of nine finalists for the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Leadership.

Golden Apple is the leading Illinois nonprofit committed to preparing, honoring and supporting great educators. According to its statement, this distinguished award honors exemplary performance in school leadership by a principal or head of school who has had a significant and sustained positive impact on the school, created a culture of inclusivity, and delivered dramatic student growth.

Viatorians say his selection as a finalist is well deserved.

“During the time that I worked with him he did a great job as principal,” says Br. Michael Gosch, CSV, who worked as a counselor, social worker and teacher at the school from its opening in 2004 until 2013. “He instilled confidence in students, promoted taking summer programs on college campuses for our students, and pushed for more AP classes.”

Principal Michael Odiotti, left, with students and faculty at the ribbon cutting in 2018.

Right from the beginning, Dr. Odiotti set the bar high. At each graduation ceremony he would sum up the graduates’ values this way: College ready, work prepared — and persons for others.

In 2018, Dr. Odiotti helped cut the ribbon to the school’s new campus: “Finally, students have a building they deserve — in a true college prep environment.”

Dr. Michael Odiotti, right, helps with check in at the vaccine clinic in February.

More recently he has guided the school through in-person learning during the pandemic, and served alongside volunteers at their major outreach projects, including hosting mobile food banks on the campus and a vaccine clinic for Waukegan residents.

“We want students to thrive,” Dr. Odiotti said at the 2013 graduation, “but also come back to this community and contribute in a meaningful and positive way.”