SCSD Honors Longtime Supporter Wayne O’Connor
Published on 3/25/19
Congratulations to Wayne O’Connor, a long time Syracuse City School District employee, on his retirement! He dedicated more than 30 years to the SCSD, serving as a social studies teacher, Vice Principal and Area Superintendent. After his first retirement from the SCSD, Mr. O’Connor continued to dedicate his professional and much of his personal life to our students and families.
He was a teacher, building administrator and district administrator during his career with the district. In every role, he was a compassionate advocate for our kids. He believed and still believes in each and every one of our students.
Syracuse City Court Judge Jim Cecile recalled that as a middle school student at Shea, Mr. O’Connor was one of his favorite teachers, instilling in him a sense of responsibility, as well as compassion for others.
“One of the things I remember about Mr. O’Connor is he was one of the teachers who always treated the students as adults,” Judge Cecile said. “He had high expectations for everyone and expected us to behave like adults. That really gave me the motivation to do better in school and in my studies, because I didn’t want to disappoint him. And not only did he know the subject matter; he knew the day to day things that were going on. He was definitely very involved all around with everything.”
Judge Cecile noted that when Mr. O’Connor would see a student engaging in a negative interaction, he would tell them that one day, they might be in the same situation – and he would ask them to reflect on how that interaction would make them feel.
“It was a good life lesson on the importance of showing compassion and empathy to everyone,” Judge Cecile added.
After leaving the district, Mr. O’Connor started the Choice program, which eventually became Hillside Work Scholarship of Syracuse – where he served as the Executive Director. In this role, he helped thousands of our students cross the stage as SCSD graduates. He never stopped being a teacher or an advocate for the children of Syracuse.
Lisa Berardi worked as the Director of Operations at Hillside, serving alongside Mr. O’Connor for thirteen years, until his retirement. She recalled the way Mr. O’Connor transitioned the staff from compartmentalized departments to an open team environment where everyone’s input was valued.
“Wayne is very much about the children,” Ms. Berardi said. “When he saw there was a student need that wasn’t being met, his response was always: what can we do about that? He always made his decisions based on what was best for the children we were serving, and he was open to ideas, as long as they were in the best interest of the youth. That created an open atmosphere for his staff.”
Ms. Berardi recalled that even when budget was an issue, Mr. O’Connor found a way to pull through for the students – whether it be through fundraising or even by donating out of his own pocket. She noted a trip he funded to the local farmer’s market to expose students to healthy, fresh, locally-grown food, as well as a trip to a pumpkin patch where he allowed students to choose their own pumpkins.
“As his employees, he pushed us out of our comfort zones,” Ms. Berardi added. “But people were on board because they respected him. They knew that if Wayne was doing something, that meant it was good for the kids. It takes a village to raise a child, and he instilled that within our organization. He’d show up on a student’s front porch or at their job, if they needed him. He was truly an amazing leader – an amazing youth provider, teacher and educator.”
SCSD Superintendent Jaime Alicea first worked with Mr. O’Connor when he was a sixth grade teacher at Seymour and Mr. O’Connor was a principal at Shea. He recalled Mr. O’Connor personally welcoming future Shea students to the building to give them tours and talk to them about middle school.
As Superintendent Alicea was promoted to Seymour principal, Mr. O’Connor moved to Frazer, and the two continued collaborating; and eventually, they were named area superintendents together.
“Wayne was always a great partner,” Superintendent Alicea said. “He is a person who was always putting the kids first, and he was always planning ways to support kids and staff… even after he retired. He truly is a student-centered person… he believes in our kids and really wants to help make a difference for them.”
Thank you, Mr. O’Connor, for inspiring countless students, staff and families with your passion for the Syracuse City School District and for helping our students achieve success!