Ignite College and Career Academy hires Dr. Don Gilman as Founding CEO

Published 7:52 am Thursday, June 25, 2020

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From:  Ignite College and Career Academy Board of Directors


Dr. Don Gilman

A 16-month-long, partnership-driven search process has culminated in the hiring of Dr. Don Gilman as the founding CEO of Ignite College and Career Academy.

Dr. Gilman has served since July 2017 as the Director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) for Sumter County Schools. Prior to coming to Americus, Dr. Gilman worked in the school systems in Lee and Worth counties, after a lengthy career in the private sector and the classroom. “My transition into Career, Technical and Agricultural Education was somewhat of a natural progression, he said, “because I understood the value of preparing students for entry into careers.”

Dr. Gilman was the unanimous choice of the Ignite College and Career Academy Board of Directors after a search process that began in March 2019 under the oversight of a CEO Search Committee. That group wrote the CEO’s job description; recommended a search process driven by Ignite’s secondary, post-secondary, and employer partners; and crafted a timeline that would result in a hiring by July 1, 2020 – a year before Ignite is to open.

Even delayed slightly by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on school and business closings, the search proceeded with applications from candidates, pre-screenings by the school system and CEO Search Committee, and two rounds of interviews of candidates from three states.

Officially starting as CEO on July 1, Dr. Gilman will be only the second CCA CEO in Georgia (after the CEO in Brunswick) to have a compensation package equally funded by three partners that have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – showing the true collaborative nature of the Ignite partnership. “Our idea since we started planning Ignite in 2017 was to be the best college and career academy partnership in Georgia,” said Ignite Board Chair Eshonda Blue. “We toured academies all over the state, we surveyed their CEOs, and we attended statewide meetings before and after we won our grant competition, “ she added. “Brunswick and Glynn County’s CCA was named CCA of the Year in 2018, and that CCA has three partners funding its CEO position. However, our CCA is the first in Georgia to have two nonprofit corporations – One Sumter and Ignite CCA, Inc. – to join the school system as funders of the CEO position. We believe we have created a new best practice in Georgia.”

Ignite will officially open in August 2021 as a “school-within-a-school” at the new Sumter County High School on South Georgia Technical College Parkway. Ignite will focus on developing the regional workforce in and around Americus by offering high school career, technical and agricultural education (CTAE) programs; dual enrollment courses with South Georgia Technical College and Georgia Southwestern State University; and internships and apprenticeships with more than 100 business partners in seven counties.

Ignite’s founding educational partners have high praise for the choice of Dr. Gilman. Dr. Torrance Choates said, ”As the Superintendent of Sumter County Schools, we are pleased that one of our very own educators, Dr. Donald Gilman, has been selected and appointed to lead the Ignite College and Career Academy.  I reaffirm our commitment to Sumter County and the Sumter County School District. We are serious about educating our students, providing a superior education, and giving our students all of the tools necessary for their success!”

The President of South Georgia Technical College, Dr. John Watford, said, “On behalf of South Georgia Technical College, I congratulate Dr. Don Gilman on his new position.  We have had the pleasure of working closely with Dr. Gilman through our dual enrollment partnership with Sumter County Schools, and we wish him all the best.  The naming of Dr. Gilman as CEO of Ignite CCA is the culmination of the vision and hard work of strong community leaders such as Ted McMillan, Mary Beth Brownlee, Eshonda Blue and the Ignite Board.”

Dr. Neal Weaver, President of Georgia Southwestern State University said, “GSW is excited about the continued development of Ignite, and we are all looking forward to working with Dr. Gilman as he takes on this important leadership role. We have been fortunate to work with him in his previous position, and I know he will bring an unwavering commitment to education and a high level of enthusiasm for the work to be done to make Ignite a powerful addition to the Sumter County community.”

Seven of the 13 members of the Ignite Board of Directors are employers selected jointly by the Boards of the Sumter County Development Authority and the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce – institutions that serve and promote an excellent workforce. “Our entire county has participated in some way to improve educational achievement and career development through the planning for Ignite College and Career Academy,” said Rusty Warner, the Executive Director of the Sumter County Development Authority. “Our community will see a proactive approach to everything ‘education’ as Dr. Gilman serves as Ignite’s CEO,” he added. “Sumter’s current and future employers will benefit from Ignite’s ‘learning while earning’ internships and apprenticeships, which will place students in real jobs while they are still in high school, with a major assist from our great technical college and university.”

“The Sumter County Chamber of Commerce is looking forward to partnering and working with Dr. Don Gilman as the new CEO of Ignite CCA,” said Carolyn Wright, President.  “The Sumter County Chamber also thanks One Sumter Economic Development Foundation and all of our community’s leaders in making Ignite a reality for our future leaders.  The Chamber’s Education and Business Development Divisions are looking forward to working with Dr. Gilman and his team to help Sumter’s business community be proactive and committed to building Sumter’s workforce.”

One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Inc. also played a major role coordinating Ignite’s development. Last June, former One Sumter Executive Director Mary Beth (Bass) Brownlee received an appreciation award from Sumter County Schools for her leadership coordinating the planning effort that resulted in Ignite winning a $3.12 million state grant. Mrs. Brownlee has continued supporting Ignite through her work on the One Sumter Board of Directors, and her successor (current One Sumter Executive Director Ivy Oliver) and the entire One Sumter Board supported the CEO search and have high praise for the Ignite Board’s choice.

Speaking on behalf of One Sumter’s donors and Board, Ivy Oliver said, “The College and Career Academy approach is a unique and aggressive approach to streamlining the workforce pipeline to better equip students for the future. The CEO is an integral component of this process who is charged with shaping the culture of the academy from the top down. When our community first began pursuing the $3.12 million grant from the state in 2016, we soon realized what a huge undertaking this planning effort would be. However, Sumter County rose to the challenge. Dr. Gilman has been there from the beginning of our volunteer Steering Committee work in 2017, and I know he will do an excellent job taking Ignite to the next level as CEO. This is a pivotal moment for Ignite, its Board of Directors, and the Sumter County community. One Sumter is excited and humbled to be a part of that story.”

Finally, Dr. Gilman will collaborate with Kimothy Hadley, principal of Americus-Sumter County High School. “I have worked with Dr. Don Gilman for the past three years in his role as Career Technical Agriculture Education (CTAE) Director,” said Mr. Hadley. “During that time, he worked with our CTAE teachers on assessment strategies, and together they dramatically increased the number of students completing career pathways and passing the state’s assessments. I am excited to continue working with Dr. Gilman as he leads our Ignite College and Career Academy for Sumter County Schools and our community.”

When Ignite opens next year, any student at the new Sumter County High School will have the chance to get a head start on a great career at Ignite, which will occupy its own wing of the school. “The role of Ignite College and Career Academy will be to prepare our students for the career opportunities that are available locally and regionally,” said Dr. Gilman. “I think it is highly appropriate that the name ‘Ignite’ came from an anonymous student, and that we are all working together to ensure that all students in our region can ignite and launch careers of their choosing.”


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About Ignite CCA: Ignite College and Career Academy, Inc. is one of 50 college and career academies serving nearly 80 public school systems in Georgia. Georgia’s CCA model started in Newnan in 2000 with the opening of Central Educational Center. Starting in 2007, the state of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia have offered a facility grant annually. Sumter County’s proposal for the student-named Ignite CCA won a grant award in December 2018. Ignite is a Georgia non-profit corporation with a 13-member, majority-business, volunteer Board of Directors that has monthly meetings open to the public. After July 1, please direct all inquiries to Dr. Don Gilman at dgilman@sumterschools.org.