RINCON — Ashley Kieffer, principal of Effingham College & Career Academy since 2015, is now also the academy’s CEO, leading it into the 2019-20 school year in a dual role.
One of the first teachers at ECCA when it opened in August 2010, Kieffer in 2012 became founding instructor of its logistics and distribution program, one of the first high school programs of its kind in Georgia. As ECCA principal the past four years, he has been in charge of day-to-day operations of the school, and he will continue in that role.
But Barbara Prosser, Ed.D., had steered the academy in its relationships with the business community, the Board of Education and the ECCA Board of Directors. Upon Prosser’s retirement, Kieffer was named CEO effective July 1. Now that the Career Academy is firmly established, he expects to be able to maintain and strengthen links with industry while also leading the school in its educational mission.
“I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting with the industries around here to let them know what we’re about, what we offer, and you know, it’s kind of a two-way street,” Kieffer said. “We want to let them know that our job is really to offer them a future work force, and then in return we’d like for them to come in and make sure that the students are learning what they need to know.”
Prosser said she was retiring after “a wonderful eight years,” having fostered ECCA since April 2011 and seen it grow from a little over 200 students that first year.
This coming school year, the academy expects to receive between 1,000 and 1,100 students in ninth through 12th grades from Effingham County High School and South Effingham High School for part or all of their class day, Prosser said. That is not quite one-third of the two high schools’ total enrollment.
Effingham College & Career Academy offers high school students career pathways in Computer Science, Computer Programming, Engineering & Technology, Culinary Arts, Automotive, Logistics & Distribution, three original health career paths — Allied Health & Medicine, Patient Care and Sports Medicine — and, added two years ago, Biomedical Science.
All of these prepare students for end-of-pathway assessments approved by the Georgia Department of Education. Resulting certifications, such as Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE, certificates for automotive technology students, are generally recognized within their industries, Kieffer said.
ECCA also continues to offer some special dual-enrollment options, including aircraft assembly, welding and cosmetology, through Savannah Technical College, whose Effingham Campus is beside ECCA on Ga. Hwy 21 between Rincon and Springfield.
The selection of programs reflects student interest and industry input. For example, the aircraft assembly program, developed earlier in Prosser’s tenure, reflects the presence of Edwards Interiors Aerospace and the proximity of Gulfstream.
“One of the things we’re going to work on this year is finding a very specific business partner for each of our career-tech programs here, someone who’s willing to come into the classroom and support the teacher, maybe do some guest-speaker things, and come in and help make sure that what they’re teaching is relevant to industry,” Kieffer said.
A 1987 graduate of Effingham County High School, Kieffer at first took his time completing college after becoming an owner in a local business. His degrees include a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Master of Arts in Teaching, both from Georgia Southern University, and an Education Specialist from Lincoln Memorial University.
After 16 years as a business owner, he changed paths to become a business educator. He taught at South Effingham High School for two and half years, starting in January 2008, and went to the College and Career Academy in August 2010 as a marketing education teacher. That program ended two years later as he helped launch the Business Logistics Management Pathway.
Employers asked for a logistics program, and Kieffer consulted warehousing and distribution companies, manufacturers and at the Georgia Ports Authority in developing the curriculum, Prosser said. As a charter school, ECCA was then able to implement the course before it was approved by the state Department of Education.
"He built that logistics program from the ground up and students just flocked to it," said Susan Hartzog, Effingham County Schools executive director of human resources.
Although officially a charter school with its own board of directors, ECCA is also considered a “program school” because it does not issue diplomas. Students who attend classes there still graduate from either of the two regular high schools.
The Effingham County school district built the first phase of the ECCA facility with a $3.2 million Georgia Career Academy Grant, matched with Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or E-SPLOST, dollars and some additional grant money. At first, the academy offered courses to Effingham County High School and South Effingham County High School students who came there only a portion of each day.
With voter approval for an E-SPLOST extension, the Effingham County Board of Education then directed another $7 million from the sales tax to an expansion of the academy. The added two-story wing, completed in fall 2016, more than doubled the size of the school, to over 90,000 square feet.
This was called the STEM Academy expansion, for science, technology, engineering and math, and South Effingham and Effingham County High students who qualify were given the option of taking a full day of courses at ECCA. These “STEM” students are at the academy 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. but return to their regular schools for extracurricular activities.
This year there should be about 410 full-day STEM students and probably 650 part-day Career Tech students, Kieffer predicted.