Don Gillingham, A Heart-Centered Approach Driven by Data

The Path to Higher Ed is a SchooLinks hosted podcast community that explores trending topics and issues in the area of college and career readiness. Our featured guests are pushing education forward by constantly learning from, innovating and applying their college and career readiness practices. Listen to gain their insights and apply them to your own college and career readiness practices.

In this episode, we speak with Don Gillingham, Executive Director of Rockford Lutheran School in Rockford, Illinois. Using a heart-driven approach to education, Don is concerned with providing the resources and nurturing environment that develops his students into lifelong learners. By combining this approach with a data-driven mindset, Rockford Lutheran is positioning its students to become global thinkers who will be ready to succeed in the shifting economy.

About Don Gillingham

Don E. Gillingham is currently the Executive director of Rockford Lutheran School, a pk — 12 school with a 53 year history of innovation. Gillingham is a product of the Lutheran School system grade 7 through Masters studies.

A native of Detroit the 63 year old is married with 3 adult children. He is always anxious to talk about ideas and is frequently a speaker in community meetings and local and national conferences. He has often had Sunday columns in the Opinion section of Rockford’s daily paper. With a background in political campaigns and more than 40 baseball seasons under his belt, Don enjoys meeting new people and learning the lessons of leadership in a variety of settings.

His current focus is in moving Rockford Lutheran in to a lead position as a school that walks along students as they direct their learning. The school is very active bringing technology to bear in the design of curriculum and instruction.

About Rockford Lutheran Academy

Rockford Lutheran offers academics, athletics and arts that not only prepare its students for college, but for life as well-rounded, solid citizens.

STEM — The only school in the area to offer a comprehensive college credit Engineering Program through Project Lead the Way for grades K-12.

  • Design and Modeling/Automation and Robotics

  • Introduction to Engineering Design/Introduction to Computer Science

  • Principals of Engineering, and much more

  • Eight years of high school/college level science coursework, including Anatomy and Physiology, Dual Credit Biology II, Chemistry II and more.

  • Six years of high school/college level mathematics including AP Calculus and Dual Credit Statistics. (High school level course work can begin in junior high).

Foreign Language — six year study in French, German, Spanish.

  • French and Spanish offered in Pre-K through high school

Music, Art and Drama from grade school through high school

  • More than 70% of Junior and Senior High students participate in extracurricular activities


  • Grades 5 and 6 compete in Rock Valley Lutheran Athletic Conference

  • Junior High competes in Northern Conference

  • Senior High competes in Big Northern Conference

Rockford Lutheran students succeed:

  • More than 80% of RL students taking AP tests receive college credit in Biology, Physics, Chemistry, College Calculus, Foreign Language and numerous other areas.

  • Eight Dual Credit courses help students complete a full year of college prior to graduation, credit transferable to most any school in the nation. The Class of 2016 completed over 500 hours of credit.

Class of 2016:

  • 100% graduation rate

  • 11% of the Class was recognized as Illinois State Scholars

  • Awarded $7.8 million in Academic and Athletic Scholarships

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