AMERICUS — A 16-month-long, partnership-driven search process has culminated in the hiring of Don Gilman as the founding CEO of Ignite College and Career Academy.
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, 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,” Gilman said, “because I understood the value of preparing students for entry into careers.”
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 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, 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 – 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,” Ignite Board Chair Eshonda Blue said. “We toured academies all over the state, we surveyed their CEOs, and we attended statewide meetings before and after we won our grant competition. 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 work force in and around Americus by offering high school career, technical and agricultural education 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 Gilman.
“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,” Torrance Choates said. “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!”
South Georgia Technical College President 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.”
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.
“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,” Neal Weaver, president of Georgia Southwestern State University, said. “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.”
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,” Gilman said. “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.”