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Bronwyn Ragan-Martin, Ed.D.

Deputy Su​perintendent,
Rural Education and Innovation​
​Georgia Department of Education​​​​​​

Dr. ​​​Bronwyn Ragan-Martin is the former Superintendent of the Early ​​​County School System, a small rural system in southwest Georgia with approximately 2,000 students and 300 employees.

She previously served as the system's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and coordinated human resources, gifted education, and leadership development. Prior to that, she was a high school English teacher and debate coach. ​

She is a past Chairperson of the Blakely-Early County Chamber of Commerce and served as Chairperson of the Early County Department of Health Board as well as a member of the Lucy Hilton Maddox Memorial Library Board. She is an active participant and past Chairperson of the Southwest Georgia RESA Board of Control, past President of the Rotary Club of Blakely, and past President of the Georgia School Superintendents Association. She has served on numerous statewide taskforces and panels as an authoritative and authentic voice for rural education in Georgia.​

Full​ Bio

Meet The REI Team

Ilisha Terez-Evans

Business Support Analyst II
Office of Rural Education and Innovation
Phone: 470.763.1102
Cell Phone: 229.449.4883

Please contact Ilisha Terez-Evans for issues concerning the REI Department.


Kermit V. Gilliard, Jr., Ed.D.

Senior Program Manager

Dr. Kermit Gilliard, Jr. is a native of Grady County. He is a 1985 graduate of Cairo High School, 1989 graduate of Valdosta State College with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education. Dr. Gilliard received his Master’s degree from Georgia State University in Special Education with a concentration in Severe and Profound Disabilities in 1992. He returned to Valdosta State University for his doctoral studies in Education Leadership and graduated in 2010. 

Dr. Gilliard is beginning his 33rd year as a Public School Educator; he taught three years in Gwinnett County at North Gwinnett High School and 29.5 years in the Grady County School System; two years as a teacher, 12 years as Director of Special Education, three years as Eastside Elementary School principal, four years as Washington Middle School principal and two years as Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Leadership. 

In September of 2014, he was named Interim Principal of Cairo High School while maintaining his duties as Assistant Superintendent. On July 1, 2015, he became the Superintendent of the Grady County School System. Dr. Gilliard retired October 30, 2021 and began work with the Georgia Department of Education as the Senior Program Manager of REI on November 1, 2021. 

He and his wife Cristie have two children, Anna, a Senior Mechanical Engineering student at Florida State University and Owen, a welding student at Southern Regional Technical College in Thomasville.

Russell Paine, Ed.S.

Technology and Partnership Specialist

With over 20 years of experience in educational technology, Russell Paine drives innovation and builds connections as Technology and Partnership Specialist for Georgia's Office of Rural Education and Innovation. Russell joined GaDOE in 2021 to empower rural districts through strategic guidance, training, and grant funding.

Formerly the Southwest Georgia RESA Technology Director, Russell pioneered the SLDS Ambassador Cohort, Google Teach from Home Courses, and the Substitute Teacher Course that is still serving educators today. He remains engaged statewide through the GaDOE K12 Connections Team and Governor's Digital Connectivity Advisory Committee.

With multiple degrees in History, Religion, Spanish, Middle Grades Math and Social Studies Education, and Educational Leadership, Russell brings multifaceted expertise. His teaching credentials in Gifted and ESOL Education, Reading, and technology certifications further strengthens his expertise. Before entering education, Russell served as a U.S. Army Paratrooper, gaining firsthand experience with the onset of global technology.

Connecting decades of hands-on EdTech experience with a passion for uplifting rural schools, Russell continues building relationships and skills to help rural Georgia educators maximize the power of technology. His focus on professional development and collaboration provides targeted support for innovation across the state.

Russell and his wife Katie have been married for 29 years, have four children and three grandchildren. They serve as youth leaders in their church and previously abroad to several countries through missions. ​

Laura Ergle, Ed.D.

College and Career Partnerships Specialist

Laura Ergle was the former Career Technical Agricultural Education (CTAE) Director, College and Career Academy Director, and an Assistant Principal in the Griffin Spalding County School System. Previously, she worked for the Georgia Department of Education as a CTAE Program Specialist as well as a CTAE Instructor in both Fayette County and Coweta County.    

Prior to her career in education, Laura was a flight attendant for Delta Airlines for 11 years and worked at Triumph Motorcycles America.  

Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in Family & Consumer Sciences and a master's degree in educational leadership from the University of Georgia and a doctorate degree from Argosy University in Educational Leadership.   

Laura is the proud mother of Christina and Taylor. Christina is married to Garry, and they have four beautiful children and reside in Hawaii.  Taylor is married to Ashton, and they have a handsome son and reside in Texas. ​

Heather Finley​, Ed.S.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention Specialist​

Heather Finley began her teaching career in 1997 as an elementary special education teacher after graduating from Florida State University with a bachelor's degree in special education. She moved to Fannin County in 1999 and served as a special education teacher and department head at Fannin County Middle School. After earning a master's degree in educational leadership with an emphasis in Instructional Technology from Kennesaw State University, she served as the Fannin County District’s Special Education Specialist for 8 years. She earned her specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Lincoln Memorial University in 2009. She became Fannin County’s Director of Student Services in 2015 and transitioned to the Director of Instructional Technology and Information Services in 2017. As with most rural districts, her positions entailed a wide breadth of duties, including the management of Title IIA and Title V RLIS funds. As the Title IIA program coordinator, she developed a strong teacher induction and mentoring program that supported teachers in Fannin County.   

Heather is married to Philip Finley, and they have two children. Ben lives in Florida and works in the boating industry as a salesman. Cady is a student at Auburn University studying business analytics. When the Finleys are not cheering on the Auburn Tigers, they enjoy boating and spending time with family.   

Heather is committed to supporting the work of the REI Team by creating networks of rural leaders focused on teacher recruitment and retention efforts and fostering collaboration between districts and other agencies to establish sustainable solutions that will address the unique retention and recruitment needs of rural Georgia school districts. ​

​Charity Roberts, Ed.D.
Instructional Specialist
Dr. Charity Roberts is the Instructional Specialist for the Office of Rural Education and Innovation.  Prior to this role, she served five years as the Director of District & School Effectiveness and North GLRS Director for Pioneer RESA in Cleveland, GA, as well as seven years as the Coastal GLRS Director with First District RESA in Brooklet, GA.  Her personal mission has been to ensure excellent educational opportunities for all students.  To achieve this goal, she has dedicated her career to providing excellent professional learning support, coaching, and technical assistance to school system staff in the areas of literacy, math, special education supports, and continuous school improvement.    

Prior to joining the Office of Rural Education, Dr. Roberts has had the honor of serving 23 rural districts for over 28 years in both northeast and southeast Georgia.  Her rural district experience includes teaching students with disabilities and leading district special education programs as well as leadership roles in gifted, student services, state assessments, and ESOL programs.  Dr. Roberts has served on several state advisory boards such as the Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership, Georgia’s Tiered System of Supports for Students, Georgia Professional Standards Commission Student Support Team Task Force, and Georgia Council for Administrators of Special Education.  She served in several roles for the Student Support Team Association of Georgia such as Director At-Large, Secretary, and President-Elect.   

She is a Quadruple Eagle graduate of Georgia Southern University in the fields of special education and educational leadership.  In addition, she served ten years as a part-time instructor for the Georgia Southern College of Education.  Dr. Roberts is a certified teacher and leader in the areas of educational leadership, instructional supervision, elementary education, middle grades reading, and multiple fields in special education.  Dr. Roberts and her husband Rodney have two sons, Ryan and Tyler.

Temporairly Vacant

Partnership Specialist

The Partnerships Specialist for the Office of Rural Education and Innovation is temporarily vacant. Mr. Russell Paine has assumed the duties and responsibilities until the position is filled. Thank you, REI Team

Rural Innovation Map