PORTLAND — Providing an all-girls education is more relevant in 2017 than ever, according to Amy Jolly, new head of school at The Maine Girls’ Academy.

“Research shows that girls’ schools empower students to become bold leaders and their academic achievement is higher,” Jolly said this week.

That’s especially true for girls in grades 9-12, which she called “a special window of time for a girl to focus on her own development.”

“Our girls find the climate in the school is one where they feel encouraged and comfortable to express themselves freely, which contributes to higher level critical thinking skills,” Jolly added.

That’s not to say that the girls who attend MGA, the former Catherine McAuley High School, are completely isolated from male influences, she said.

“They have male friends and family members and we have dances and other events which allow for the normal interactions of teenage life,” Jolly said, but at the same time an all-girls environment gives students more “freedom to be themselves.”

Jolly has extensive experience working at independent schools, most recently at The Fenn School in Concord, Massachusetts.

In a press release, MGA said it hired Jolly because of her “deeply held belief that (the school) is uniquely positioned to offer young women of intellect, courage and purpose an unparalleled educational opportunity.”

Her appointment was the result of a “comprehensive search,” which included input from students, faculty, parents and board members, the press release said.

“(Jolly) is the person the board believes the school needs now,” the release added. “(She’ll be a) head of school who is committed to a long-term relationship with MGA, is entrepreneurial, understands girls’ education, has a proven track record of leadership in independent school administration, can communicate effectively with diverse audiences and can work collaboratively with key stakeholders.”

Jolly said she was attracted to MGA because “the school is full of courageous and forward-looking educators who care deeply about offering an inspiring and vibrant academic program for the young women of Maine.”

In fact, Jolly described herself as being “smitten” after hearing the story of MGA.

“To have the chance to lead such a creative and thoughtful community was both professionally and personally compelling,” she said this week. “Additionally, I was drawn to the school because it is intentionally small,” which helps each student “reach her fullest potential.”

Just in her first week on the job, Jolly said she saw the girls “were already embracing our school culture, showing a genuine delight … in how respected they felt in our classrooms.”

The MGA opened in 1877 as Saint Elizabeth’s Academy. From its founding to last year the school was sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy.

Now, however, MGA is “an independent, non-sectarian school (that) continues to embrace many of the values and traditions that are part of (its) rich history,” the school’s website states.

Jolly started at MGA on Sept. 1, and although she’s only been on the job for a little over a week, what she appreciates most, she said, is that “(we’re) not an elitist institution and our faculty and students are very down-to-earth.”

She is also impressed by the school’s “deep and enduring commitment to welcome students from a wide range of socioeconomic, ethnic and religious backgrounds.”

Jolly lives in Windham, is married and has three grown children and what she described as “two friendly, but rather poorly behaved Labrador retrievers.”

In terms of her plans for MGA, Jolly said the school already has “a thoughtful curriculum” and “we want to take this strong foundation and continue to grow it so that we are continually offering our students the best advantages for a changing world.”

This means “our programming has to include a focus on computer science, design thinking and collaborative leadership,” she said.

“I am committed to guiding the academy … in developing the programs (that) will allow us to grow the next generation of leaders and problem-solvers.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Amy Jolly, seated center, new head of school at The Maine Girls’ Academy in Portland, surrounded by members of the Class of 2021.