MEXICO — Darlene Upcraft says she isn’t much one for public speaking.
More than two decades ago when she first ran for a seat on the Mexico Academy and Central School’s Board of Education, Upcraft says she struggled to come up with exactly what to say at a crowded candidates forum.
Even now, she’s somewhat relieved she won’t have to deliver a speech after being selected as the 2020 Oswego County Board of Education Member of the Year
“It’s really an honor that other board members recognize me,” Upcraft said. “I’m struggling for words. I’m not a public speaker or a politician.”
Upcraft’s voice has been a constant on the MACS board for 24 years, including the last seven as its vice president. The award is voted on by fellow board members of the county’s nine districts.
A 1974 MACS grad, Upcraft in 1996 was a single mother on shift work at Anheuser-Busch in Baldwinsville spending much of her free time volunteering as a scouting den mother, Sunday school teacher, band mom and more. When three spots opened up on the MACS Board of Education, Upcraft thought it would be a natural fit, despite a relative lack of experience.
“I got a petition filed and my first reality check was the Meet the Candidates night,” Upcraft said. “There were about 15 people running for three seats on the board and we were all seated at a long table, myself at the end.”
The questions poured in, and Upcraft had a hard time standing out. At one point, when asked about the future of K-12 education in the United States and Mexico specifically, Upcraft foresaw more learning online remotely with computers.
It’s now looking prophetic.
“Really I was just trying to set myself apart, which afterwards I overheard a district administrator say ‘Well, there’s always a kook in every bunch. Imagine someone thinking that schools would be on computers,’” Upcraft said.
She would earn enough votes to join the board in 1996, and one of Upcraft’s priorities since has been pushing for a one-to-one ratio of distance learning devices to all students. Three years ago, the board voted to provide every MACS student with an iPad or laptop for use at school and home.
“It did make the transition (to the current pandemic model) easier and more equitable for all students,” Upcraft said.
Throughout the last 24 years and moving forward, Upcraft says she has firmly believed that the job of the Board of Education is to put the students first.
Her reward every year is handing out diplomas and seeing students excel at the next step of their lives, whether it’s in college, the military or the workforce.
“People often ask me why I have stayed for so long, and while I struggle to answer it sometimes, the truth of the matter is I love the school district and the kids,” Upcraft said.
Upcraft knows any of the work she’s done can’t be done alone. While Board President James Emery dubbed her as the “heart and soul,” “historian” and “queen of policy” on the board, Upcraft shared the credit for her latest honor as Oswego County School Board Member of the Year with the six other members of the MACS Board of Education.
“I’m honored to be chosen, but it’s the whole school board,” Upcraft said. “No one person really can make a difference. The whole school board needs to be involved.”
Upcraft would normally be honored with the other winners at a dinner held by the Central New York School Boards Association, but that has been canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.
Fulton City School District Board of Education President Robbin Griffin has known Upcraft for years and took time during FCSD’s last meeting Wednesday to congratulate Upcraft.
“Darlene is a great gal who is very committed to education and the young people in Oswego County,” Griffin said. “Kudos to Darlene for well-deserved recognition.”
Upcraft has also served on the CiTi Board, the Oswego County School Boards Association and the CNY School Boards Association, and frequently attended CNY School Boards Association events, even earning a Board Lifetime Achievement Award.
Upcraft retired from the CNYSBA last year, but her voice will continue to be prevalent on the MACS board after being re-elected in June. While Upcraft’s work continues, she won’t need to worry about crafting a speech this summer after earning another accolade.
“It’s been an odd year,” Upcraft said. “I’m not a big public speaker, so I’m fine with it.”