Tributes have been coming from many corners following the sudden and untimely passing of Dolores McCracken late last year.
But amid the accolades for the former PSEA president’s long and distinguished service – cards, emails, social media posts, and tearful speeches by former colleagues and friends – it is important to both look to the future and reflect on McCracken’s legacy.
“What Dolores would want most is that we continue onward in being passionate advocates for public education and students,’’ said PSEA President Rich Askey. “PSEA was in her DNA. To honor the tremendous legacy left by this remarkable woman, let us now take up the important work before us.’’
McCracken, 65, a paraprofessional in the Council Rock School District, Bucks County, passed away Nov. 13 following a brief battle with an aggressive cancer.
“Public education and public school students lost a champion with the passing of Dolores McCracken,’’ Gov. Tom Wolf said. “My administration had the privilege of working with Dolores on a number of issues, from school safety, to school funding, to developing the state’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. I can attest personally that she was tireless in advocating on behalf of students, educators, and working families.’’
McCracken made PSEA history three times in recent years.
In 2011, she became the first support professional to serve as a state officer when she was elected treasurer. Her election as vice president four years later made her the first ESP to serve in that office. Then, on Sept. 1, 2017, McCracken became the first support professional to become president, ascending to that post after former president Jerry Oleksiak resigned to become Pennsylvania secretary of labor and industry.
Although Oleksiak’s appointment by Wolf and his subsequent departure occurred within only a matter of weeks, McCracken took the reins in full stride and never looked back.
In just 14 months as president, McCracken was instrumental in bipartisan legislation to address school safety, reduce time spent on standardized testing, and protect school support professionals from having their jobs subcontracted to for-profit companies. She also guided the Association’s highly successful member retention efforts in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
During last fall’s gubernatorial campaign, she worked for Wolf’s re-election, as well as advocated for the election of other pro-public education candidates at the state and federal levels.
Like the governor, others noted the impact McCracken had on public education in Pennsylvania.
Her photo was displayed on the House floor as legislators stood and gave individual speeches honoring her. Tributes also rolled in from state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, statewide education groups, and labor unions, among others.
Then there were the rank-and-file PSEA members, thousands of whom took the time to express their appreciation for the work done on their behalf.
“She’ll be remembered for her tireless work and extraordinary dedication to educators. She will be dearly missed by her union brothers and sisters,’’ one PSEA member wrote. “I’m forever in her debt for her service to my union and my profession.’’
PSEA career rooted in family
Despite her deep devotion to PSEA and a demanding schedule, McCracken found ample time for her family.
She was married to Jack McCracken Jr. for 40 years; was a devoted mother to son, Jack McCracken III, and daughter, Kristin Ellenberger; and was a loving grandmother to Logan McCracken, and Dylan, Reese and Paige Ellenberger. Telling stories of her four grandchildren was a daily pleasure.
It was being a mother that got her involved in public education, a commitment that led to a second family, PSEA.
When her children entered elementary school, she became president of the home and school association, and then took a job as a paraprofessional in the Council Rock School District.
That propelled her to become active in PSEA – serving as president of her local association before taking on other numerous leadership positions at the region and state levels before running for and winning the treasurer’s post.
As she moved on to the vice presidency and presidency, she was just as hands-on as she was while serving as a local ESP president in Council Rock.
She traveled the state to meet personally with PSEA members, walked picket lines, traversed the halls of the state Capitol to advocate for public education, and did TV interviews and other media appearances.
“Many PSEA members, like me, grieve the loss not only of a great advocate for the Association and our students, but the loss of a friend,’’ Askey said. “But there is something far stronger and deeper than grief that we feel. And that is the power of Dolores’ enduring legacy. All of our lives are better because Dolores McCracken was a part of us.’’