A Brief History
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was growing concern too many young people were not prepared to enter the labor market. Ohio responded by creating vocational school districts, which ensured that young people would have a broad range of career options.
By 1970, 22 school districts joined together to form the Hamilton County Joint Vocational School District.
The first class began in 1971 at the central office building. It was an instructional aide program with Rosemary Kolde as the instructor. Great Oaks students took first, second and third place in state competitions and two others won the national essay contest before campus buildings were even built.
Initially, there were to be two campuses, one on the east side and one on the west, but in 1971 all that changed when Great Oaks acquired the old Army depot in Sharonville. Additionally, 13 more school districts joined the vocational school district. In 1972, the school changed its name to Great Oaks and added a fourth campus with the addition of the Clinton County Air Force Base.
Meanwhile, the work at Great Oaks moved to developing curriculum, equipping labs, and recruiting students while Great Oaks built three campuses and renovated another in a single year.
In September 1973, Governor Rhodes and Senator Taft joined local officials in dedicating our four campuses. Great Oaks served students in 2,200 square mile area in southwestern Ohio.
Subsequently, when the Ford Transmission Plant closed in Sharonville, Great Oaks started its first training programs for adults.
In a few short years, the vision of equipping young people with a high school diploma and industry certification became a reality. By the mid ‘70s, Great Oaks already had three first place winners in national competitions.
In the decade after Great Oaks began, technology was changing the face of American life, business, and education. In 1983, Great Oaks placed a large order with IBM for personal computers and equipped vans with computers, which were able to train both students and workers in their use. IBM featured Great Oaks in a publication on computer literacy and GE hired our school to train their secretarial staff.
In 1988, Smithsonian Magazine featured Great Oaks in an article that praised our unique approach to education. By combining academics, vocational training, and personal support Great Oaks was preparing students for “life-long learning and earning”. The article was later entered into the Congressional Record. Copies were distributed to U.S. embassies around the world along with pictures of our students.
The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education recognized Great Oaks as one of the four best schools in the country for integrating vocational and academic training.
In the mid '80s, Great Oaks was the first and only vocational school in the country to earn the CARF accreditation for inclusion of students with disabilities. We also understood that literacy was essential to all learning, and the U.S. Secretary of Education praised our efforts by presenting Great Oaks with an award for Outstanding Literacy Programs for Adults.
Great Oaks programs and services for adults grew throughout the decade. Subsequently, we opened a separate building on the Scarlet Oaks campus to house a unique partnership of federal and state agencies that we brought together for adult training. Great Oaks took the lead in developing this partnership to better serve our students.
The National Center for Research in Vocational Education named Great Oaks one of the 15 best vocational schools in the country.
Great Oaks had become a model for others to follow. Forbes Magazine included us in an article on career preparation. Businesses, colleges and other high schools came to Great Oaks to better understand our system. The country of Morocco sent a delegation to study Great Oaks.
Meanwhile, Dan Rather featured us in a story on CBS. The story referred to Great Oaks as having “classrooms of the future". Other media outlets picked up the story and aired it around the world.
As businesses needed more trained employees, government leaders came to Great Oaks. For example, the Secretaries of Transportation and Education selected Great Oaks to pilot a career pathway in transportation. Ohio Governor Voinovich called on Great Oaks to develop and implement a model to recruit and train workers for Airborne in Wilmington. Great Oaks' Project HIRE addressed the barriers to employment, which were often overlooked, and was widely replicated.
As Chairman of the Board for Jobs for America’s Graduates, Governor Voinovich awarded Great Oaks the National Leadership Award for our ability to transition people into the workforce.
The State of Ohio awarded Great Oaks with Best Practices Awards for our programs in Apprenticeship, Business Technology and Even Start.
To keep pace with the changing times, we changed our name to Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development.
As the new century arrived, technology was shaping our lives as well as our educational system, and “Collaboration” and “career readiness” were the new buzz words, but for us they were always the foundation of a Great Oaks education.
Ohio Representative Boehner invited Great Oaks to testify in Washington on the importance of the re-authorization of Perkins legislation. Dr. White addressed the value of career pathways and continuing education.
Committed to training all students for employment, many organizations recognized us for our innovative practices in serving diverse populations. The Secretary of Labor presented us with the New Freedom Initiative Award for our work with students with disabilities.
The Department of Labor, the Ohio Economic Development Association, and the National Fund for Workplace Solutions recognized Great Oaks for creating the Health Professions Academy. This business and education collaborative continues to serve as a model for training under-employed workers.
The Clermont County Chamber presented Great Oaks with their prestigious Pacesetter award for improving the lives of citizens through the training programs we offered.
The need for life-long learning became a reality in the workplace. We built relationships with post-secondary institutions which, meant our instructors could teach academic courses that gave students both high school and college credit. Since 2005, our high school students have earned over 18,000 college credits, which The National Council of Local Administrators recognized as a ground-breaking accomplishment.
Recognizing that many students needed financial assistance to continue their educations, Great Oaks once again stepped forward. Through the dedication of associates and friends, we increased assets in the Great Oaks Education Foundation by $300,000.
In 2008, citizens acknowledged the importance of our work. Over 61% of the voters in Hamilton County voted to renew our tax levy.
2010s and 2020s
With increased demands for educational reform, Great Oaks became a model for career and college preparation and subsequently led a regional collaborative to incorporate 21st century skills in classrooms. Our students had laptops and teachers used smart boards. We renovated our campuses to offer students state-of-the-art labs and an environment that was welcoming and accessible.
An increasing number of our students were taking satellite classes at their home schools and by 2018 we were serving over 17,000 students in 67 programs at 40 locations.
Our students and instructors continued to excel. The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education recognized Great Oaks programs in culinary arts, animal science, and nursing as exemplary. High Schools That Work recognized all our campuses for meeting high standards.
Student accomplishments begin with a dedicated staff. In 2019, our associates named Great Oaks a Top Place to Work in Cincinnati for the sixth time.
Through these decades, we have altered what we teach and how we groom our students for the challenges of an ever evolving world.
In conclusion, one constant has remained–to prepare successful students for a world that never has and never will stand still.