A Brief History of Great Oaks

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In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was growing concern that too many young people were not prepared to enter the labor market. Ohio responded by creating vocational school districts. This ensured that young people would have a broad range of career options.

By 1970, 22 districts had joined together to form the Hamilton County Joint Vocational School District.

The first class began in 1971 in the central office building. It was an instructional aide program and Rosemary Kolde was the instructor. Before campus buildings were built, Great Oaks students took first, second and third place in state competitions; two others won the national essay contest.

Initially, there were to be two campuses – one on the east side and one on the west. In 1971, all that changed. We acquired the old army depot in Sharonville and 13 more school districts joined. In 1972, the name changed to Great Oaks and we added a fourth campus with the addition of the Clinton County Air Force Base.

The work at Great Oaks now moved to developing curriculum, equipping labs and recruiting students. In one year, Great Oaks built three campuses and renovated another.

In September 1973, Governor Rhodes and Senator Taft joined local dignitaries in officially dedicating our four campuses that now served students in 2200 square miles in southwestern Ohio.

Later in the decade, when the Ford Transmission Plant closed in Sharonville, Great Oaks started the first training 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.


ComputervanIn the decade after Great Oaks began, technology was changing the face of American life, business and, eventually, education.  In 1983 – far ahead of others - Great Oaks placed the largest IBM order for personal computers.  We equipped large vans with computers to train both students and workers in these new workplace skills.  IBM featured Great Oaks in a publication on computer literacy and GE hired us to train their secretarial staff.
In 1988, Smithsonian Magazine featured Great Oaks in an article that praised us for our unique approach to education.  By combining academics, training and personal support, we were preparing students for “life-long learning and earning”.  The article was entered into the Congressional Record.  Copies were distributed to US 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.

From the beginning, we understood that a vital economy depends on everyone’s participation. In the mid '80s, we were the first and only vocational school in the country to have earned the CARF accreditation for our inclusion of students with disabilities.

We also knew that literacy was essential to all learning. The US Secretary of Education praised our efforts by presenting Great Oaks with an award for Outstanding Literacy Programs for Adults.

Our programs and services for adults had grown throughout the decade. 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. Once again, we took the lead in forming this partnership so that our students could be better served.


As the 1990s began, the National Center for Research in Vocational Education named Great Oaks one of the 15 best vocational schools in the country.

We 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.

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 business needed more trained employees, government leaders came to Great Oaks. The Secretaries of Transportation and Education selected Great Oaks to pilot a career pathway in transportation. Ohio’s Governor Voinovich called on Great Oaks to develop and implement a model to recruit and train workers for Airborne in Wilmington. Project HIRE addressed the barriers to employment, which were often overlooked, and was widely replicated.

In his role as Chairman of the Board for Jobs for America’s Graduates, Governor Voinovich awarded Great Oaks the organization’s National Leadership Award for our ability to transition people into the workforce.

When Ohio awarded Best Practices Awards, they recognized 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.

The 21st century

As the new century arrived, technology was shaping our lives as well as our educational system. “Collaboration” and “career readiness” were the new buzz words. For us they were always the foundation of a Great Oaks education.

Representative Boehner invited Great Oaks to be the first career center to testify in Washington on the importance of the reauthorization of Perkins legislation. Dr. White addressed the value of career pathways and continuing education.

Committed to training all students for employment, 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 us with their prestigious Pacesetter award for improving the lives of citizens through the training we offered.

The need for life-long learning became a reality in the workplace. We built relationships with postsecondary institutions. This 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. The National Council of Local Administrators recognized Great Oaks for this 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.

With increased demands for educational reform, Great Oaks became a model for career and college preparation. We led a regional collaborative to incorporate 21st century skills in classrooms. Our students now had laptops and teachers used smart boards in their classrooms. 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 classes in their home schools. 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, 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 teach to groom our students for the challenges of an evolving world. One constant has remained – to prepare successful students for a world that never has and never will stand still.