Sumter County partnership brings home $3M plus for Ignite College and Career Academy

Published 2:20 pm Thursday, December 6, 2018

ATLANTA — The Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) voted today that Sumter County is one of four communities statewide to receive a competitive grant award. The Sumter partnership will use its $3.11 Million grant to help fund the design and construction of Ignite College and Career Academy in Americus. The award is a culmination of multiple years of commitment by business and industry in Sumter County, working with Sumter County Schools, South Georgia Technical College, and Georgia Southwestern State University.

The grant application and intense planning were initiated by a financial partnership between the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, SGTC and SCS in 2017, and the real success of being named one of this year’s Georgia College and Career Academy Project (GCCAP) grant recipient lies in the outstanding grassroots effort of the entire community. More than 150 engaged community members from across Sumter County attended 217 planning meetings, investing almost 200,000 volunteer hours and sparking a renewed synergy around education and hope for Sumter County’s economic future.

Sumter County Schools Superintendent Torrance Choates gave credit to the “Dream Team” partnership that served as the foundation and driving force of this outstanding accomplishment. “This is a very special day for Sumter County and the Sumter County School District! I want to thank the Sumter County Board of Education for giving us 100 percent support and standing in complete solidarity throughout the entire process of applying for the College and Career Academy grant … a ‘Dream Team’ of almost 40 school board members, school administrators, business/community leaders, and others journeyed to Atlanta to compete for the grant. We are very pleased with the opportunities this grant will provide for our students and community.”

At the heart of its mission, Ignite College and Career Academy offers not only innovation in education and learning, but it puts business and industry in the driver’s seat of Sumter County’s educational outcomes establishing a platform for K-12 education and higher education institutions to hear firsthand from companies about their growth needs and the workforce skills necessary to grow their companies, and in turn, to grow the Sumter County economy.

Demonstrating the shift in thinking about education to an employer and workforce-based perspective, Ignite’s board of directors is governed by a majority of business and industry leaders.

Dwight Jones, Plant Manager of Eaton Corporation, serves as Ignite’s chairman. Sharing his excitement regarding Governor Deal’s announcement, Jones said, “Eaton came to the table with great interest for a college and career academy early on, hosting an education summit of statewide and Sumter County leaders around this issue in 2016. To have achieved this accomplishment today, knowing the amount of hard work that was put into this and its long-term benefits, will not only add value for Eaton but for all of Sumter County’s businesses, and our students. It is truly amazing.”

SGTC President John Watford echoed Jones’ enthusiasm. “South Georgia Tech is so excited to be a part of the community-wide effort to see the Ignite College and Career Academy become a reality,” said Watford. “Local business and industry have spearheaded this initiative from the beginning to better prepare our young people for the workforce and to improve the economic outlook of Americus and Sumter County. As a college whose mission is centered on workforce education, we couldn’t be happier at the outcome. We look forward to working with the Ignite College and Career Academy.”

Offering a customized high school experience, Ignite is designed to link the needs of business and industry with the ready workforce Sumter County has on-hand in the community — its students. Trained by business and industry professionals, as well as college and university-level educators, Ignite’s students will be able to enter the workforce pipeline directly upon graduation, or move on to a higher learning experience in college better prepared to perform and excel towards an advanced degree.

Neal Weaver, president of Georgia Southwestern State University, shared GSW’s enthusiasm for Ignite and the impact for both his institution and the community. “All of us at Georgia Southwestern State University are excited to work with Ignite College and Career Academy as Americus and Sumter County continue to develop and expand the economic development infrastructure of the region,” said Weaver. “The opportunity to engage with students as they explore career options and develop the personal attributes that will make them excellent colleges students, employees, and community leaders is embedded in our mission as a University, and we are looking forward to a great partnership.”

Demonstrating the importance of Ignite to local and regional employers, some 135 employers from across central and south Georgia responded to an online workforce needs assessment, and their feedback has served as the backbone for curriculum planning and design for Ignite. Among those employers, more than 100 business, industry, parents, and individuals committed to giving an additional $8.4 million in cash and in-kind contributions, supporting Ignite with internships, apprenticeships, teacher externships, mentoring, and other investments to support Ignite’s students.

With major growth sectors anticipated in healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, public service, as well as logistics and transportation, Ignite College and Career Academy will stand out among Georgia’s existing college and career academies with a strong focus on entrepreneurship, workforce skills, and leadership development. Students will have elective pathway extensions available, enabling them to complete multiple pathways sooner, better preparing them for success in the workplace upon graduation.

The establishment and funding of Ignite College and Career Academy represents a significant return on the investment of One Sumter’s 100 foundation donors. One Sumter Executive Director Mary Beth Bass explained the uniqueness that makes Ignite so special. “Having been involved in partnership efforts of all varieties in several different communities, what I have seen transpire in Sumter County over the last three years is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Bass. “Ignite represents a real partnership in the truest sense of the word — where all parties have had to give or concede in some areas to make the whole work. Dr. Choates, the Sumter County Board of Education, Dr. Watford, Dr. Weaver, and the many, many business leaders and individuals who have made this process a success are to be commended for their vision and leadership.”

Bass continued, “We are proud to be able to bring this $3.11 million home to more than match our donors’ contributions of $2 Million. Without their continued support, we would not be here today.”