MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Golden Isles Career Academy
To Golden Isles Career Academy CEO Rick Townsend, managing the Brunswick charter schools is all about teamwork, partnerships and balance.
For starters, there’s the more than 200 students at GICA who come from Glynn County’s two high schools — Glynn Academy and Brunswick High School. Then, unlike most school leaders, Townsend answers to nine individuals who make up the Golden Isles Career Academy Foundation board and represent the business community, Altamaha Community College and the College of Coastal Georgia, and the Glynn County School Board.
Then there is the balance between rigor and relevance in GICA’s curriculum that makes the school special. In fact, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has selected GICA as one of the eight schools featured on its annual bus tour next month.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got very special kids here,” Townsend said. “All of us come with different ideas. But the bottom line is doing what works best for the sake of these kids.”
Maintaining all of these relationships, balances and partnerships are key to the success of GICA, which offers classes in 17 different career fields — from automotive services, to broadcast communications, to culinary arts to HVAC. All were on full display to the community during a Charter First Friday event last week (delayed one week by the Labor Day Holiday weekend). All of the schools students as well as some 25 guests from throughout the community participated in the event, which featured a remembrance of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy. Officials from the school board, the two colleges and the local business community were in attendance. The featured speaker was retired Naval Officer Millard Allen, a current Glynn County School Board member and former director of the Glynn Academy Board.
Townsend said it is essential for the all of the stakeholders to work together for the betterment of the school. As such, he answers to and is paid by the board and the foundation, as opposed to being an employee of the school system.
“At the other career academies, the directors are paid by the school system. Here, I’m paid by the board,” Townsend said. “The school system obviously has to have a say in how things are done. But the colleges and the business community have to be at the table as well. This helps us keep the balance between rigor and relevance.
“The curriculum has to be rigorous,” Townsend said. “But the classes have to be relevant to what is needed by the business community so that we can create a qualified, competent 21st century workforce.”
In other words, Townsend said, it doesn’t make sense to have engineering students who do well in their coursework but lack the understanding of what makes something work. At the same time, though a student may have a real-world understanding of what makes something work that student also has to be able to complete the high-level math and science courses associated with being an engineer.
He pointed to an experience with a GICA student as an example.
“She loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian,” Townsend said. “She was very smart and knew everything about animals. But when she got into our veterinary science program and had to cut the animals open in order to see how their bodies worked, she couldn’t do it.”
Townsend said that student is now studying to be a teacher. “She’s loving it,” Townsend said. “She’ll do very well. It’s all about helping these kids find their true passions and then giving them to knowledge to pursue those passions.”