Many Saugertiesians may already know Florence Hyatt, who won a position on the Board of Education last month, along with George Heidcamp and Angie Minew. Hyatt has lived in Saugerties since moving from New York City in 1989. She served on the School Board for 12 consecutive years from 1991-2003, including a term as president. Hyatt said of Saugerties, “I just think it is a great place for people to live and raise children; it’s also a great place to grow older. It’s been revitalized, and that’s kind of exciting. It makes you want to get out and do more for the community.”
During her time on the board, Hyatt “worked with a variety of people, a variety of superintendents,” and participated in two superintendent searches, but it isn’t the work in itself that she valued most. “One of the highlights of those 12 years, every single year, was high school graduation. That was a wonderful time to see the fruits of your labor. Among our graduates was Jimmy Fallon, and every time I see him I’m really proud of him.”
Reflecting on her previous time as a board member, Hyatt mentioned the advanced placement classes the board added to the high school curriculum during her stead. “I was very proud of that. My daughter was a participant in those classes. She went to college with 12 college credits. Those kinds of things enrich kids’ lives.”
Hyatt is a mother of two. Her son, 43, works with the Kingston Fire Department and her daughter, 30, graduated from Saugerties High School in 2001 and currently lives in Saugerties. When Hyatt originally ran for the board, her daughter was in second grade. She was very active in the PTA at the time, and joining the School Board was a way to become even more involved.
“Obviously I had a vested interest,” she said. “But having a child in the district wasn’t the only reason I ran. I really believe in public education, and I thought if I can contribute something, I might as well give it a shot. I think that was my original reason; I saw good things in my daughter’s school.”
Not everyone was pleased.
“My daughter wasn’t thrilled that I was on the board,” Hyatt said, and then paused before adding with a laugh, “perhaps to her I apologize.” Hyatt told her daughter, “I’m doing it for the children, and you’re one of the children, and that’s the way it goes.”
When her term was up in 2003, Hyatt said, “I just decided between having come back to work — I was working the night shift — I needed a little break.”
Hyatt has been working as a registered nurse in various capacities for what will be 50 years this September. Since 2001 she has worked for what is now Health Alliance, and is currently the director of patient flow at both campuses. She has held a variety of professional jobs at the former Benedictine Hospital and Kingston Hospital. During a short break from nursing, she worked for five years in radio at WGHQ, now called Kingston Community Radio, where she hosted a community political talk show, which Hyatt said “was a great deal of fun.”
She ran for the board again in 2006, but was ill with cancer. She was not elected at the time. Hyatt said of her loss, “Actually that was a good thing because I wasn’t really well enough to do the job. So that was actually a relief. As much as I love doing it, it wasn’t the time.”
She went back and forth with the recent election, picking up and filling out a petition, then deciding at the last minute not to submit it, before changing her mind again at the behest of friends and acquaintances and in light of the potential for write-in candidates to take a seat on the board. “People kept asking me, and I thought perhaps I can fit it in and make it work.”
However, Hyatt admitted, “I never thought I would win as a write-in candidate, to be honest … So it was a very pleasant surprise.”
Still, she feels prepared, or at least prepared to prepare herself better. Hyatt reiterated multiple times that she still has a lot to learn, coming back to the board after some time away. But she has a strong background, and some of her other work has kept her very much involved with education. “I’m so aware of what’s going on in education right now from the BOCES board perspective, where we know that the dollars are short and the needs are high, and everyone has to think really creatively. We can’t do the same old thing that we’ve been doing for the last 50 years because the money is at a premium, the needs are at a premium, and sometimes we have to make those things mesh.”
In brief, Hyatt said, “Who I am is a pro-education human being, a public education advocate.”