This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In September, Pennsylvania’s teachers’ union will have a new leader. And she won’t be a former teacher.
Dolores McCracken took an unusual route to the top of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), and her story begins in Philadelphia.
The Mayfair native attended Catholic school – on her grandmother’s orders, she said — and after graduating took some classes at Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science (now Thomas Jefferson University). After high school, McCracken worked as the chief of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and later as a paralegal.
McCracken put her career on hold after having kids, assuming she’d at some point re-enter the legal profession. While she was waiting, McCracken became president of the Home and School Association at Churchville Elementary School in Lower Bucks County, where her kids were enrolled.
"My history has been to get involved," she said.
Eager to work again, but wary of the long hours a paralegal job would entail, McCracken took a job as a teacher’s assistant at Churchville. She would remain in the position for nearly two decades.
"When you work in public education and you believe you’re making a difference, one year turns into two years," McCracken said. "And the next thing you know, you realize you’ve been there 10 years and you’re not going to leave."
As she grew into her classroom role, McCracken took an interest in union politics. She headed the union that represents paraprofessionals at the Council Rock School District and later landed on the PSEA board in a position reserved for non-teacher members of the 180,000-person union.
McCracken then ascended to treasurer and vice president. Current PSEA president Jerry Oleksiak is taking a position as Gov. Wolf’s labor secretary, and McCracken will slide into the presidency. She’ll start on Sept. 2.