How the unique Butler Tech has grown as a community asset under its third-year leader

Three years ago, the future wasn’t happening fast enough for Butler Tech schools.

That was part of the job pitch then-superintendent candidate Jon Graft made during his interviews with the governing board of the Butler County career school system.

His hiring, Graft told them, combined with a new strategic direction would help accelerate the school district’s expansion and modernization and increase partnerships with local industries.

Butler Tech’s board members liked what they heard in 2016 and hired Graft, a former superintendent of Butler County’s Education Services Center and veteran administrator with numerous local school districts.

And since then, the career school, which is one of the largest in Ohio, has seen its most significant transformations since it was created in 1975.

“Butler Tech’s tremendous growth is a direct result Jon Graft’s leadership, vision, and passion to revolutionize public education,” said Butler Tech Board of Education President Michael Berding.

“Before Jon’s arrival at Butler Tech there was a sense of complacency among the staff because of good results. This led to steady enrollment, but not much growth and little buzz about what Butler Tech was doing to solve the skills gap problem,” said Berding, who is also president of the Fairfield school board.

Enrollment for both high school students and adults is up, now totaling 18,500. So are the number of campuses with the purchase of the former Americana Amusement park in Monroe last year and acquiring a new high school campus through its first partnership with Hamilton Schools.

The state-of-the-art Butler Tech Bioscience School in West Chester Twp. is adding an additional floor, and a new mechatronics and aviation career pathways avionics program is coming to Middletown Airport.

Total acreage of its seven campuses is up 30 percent, and it serves students who come from 10 districts locally while also enrolling those from Northwest Schools in northern Hamilton County.

“Jon has proven to be an innovator. The partnership with chambers of commerce and industry leaders have blossomed under Jon’s leadership,” Berding said.

“Students are able to get real life opportunities, earn significant income, and create a pipeline to employment after graduation. The business communities work closely with our workforce services department to help us prepare our students for future job growth and fill needed skilled positions now,” he said.

Rick Pearce, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe & Trenton, described Graft’s tenure as a “win, win, win” situation for “Butler Tech students, employers and our communities.”

“Jon has been very receptive to the information the business community has shared. He is always looking out for the best interest of the students and how it best meets the needs of the business community,” said Pearce.

Graft deflects much of the credit for Butler Tech’s rise and instead insists the recent booming growth was a reflection of the solid foundation he inherited.

“I was impressed with Butler Tech even before my arrival,” Graft said. “Butler Tech was always a place that was known as being innovative … with really remarkable teachers and staff.”

“To see how our teachers are able to interact with students and see what our students can accomplish, it’s second to none.”

Graft said looking back he is most proud of the teaching and administrative team assembled “that is absolutely committed to transforming public education into the 21st century.

“We have some really creative thinkers as to how we go about accomplishing that. In the public setting, there’s a risk aversion … if we are going to fail, we are going fail forward. We learn the lesson from what we discovered about the prototype that we created and we learn a lesson from it.

“If you have never failed as a student, you really haven’t pushed yourself hard enough to know what you can do and what you can become. There are high expectations for what we deliver.”

Berding said the superintendent is meeting those expectations.

“Jon’s leadership ability to persuade people to jump on board of this education revolution will transform lives of many people in Butler county and help many companies fill their workforce needs,” he said.

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