WOODBURY – You would be mistaken if you thought longtime administrator Wayne McAllister was headed to the golf course or to a vacation by the pool after his Aug. 24 retirement from Region 14 schools.
No, the 69-year-old is headed to law school.
But not until September 2023, when he’s 70 or so. First, he plans to enroll in a one-year program studying anthropology and archaeology at North Texas University.
“I’m headed to UConn Law School after studying anthropology and archaeology, so I have four years of schooling ahead of me,” McAllister revealed during a recent interview.
That next chapter for this respected and much-liked leader will begin as soon as he officially steps down from his post at Region 14 schools where his colleagues say he has been a rock from day one.
For the past 18 months, McAllister has served as the district’s acting superintendent, and before that, nearly a decade as its director of finance and operations.
McAllister retires, or, more precisely, heads back to school, after having left behind what his colleagues are calling a legacy of achievement, unrivaled leadership, good humor and friendship, all conducted quietly and calmly, with integrity and without a lot of fanfare.
But McAllister, when asked what he hoped to be remembered for, in typical fashion, replied there’s no need for any nostalgia.
“I don’t want to be remembered for anything at all. It’s not done to be remembered. I’m just doing the job I was assigned to do. It’s about being satisfied by doing what you were supposed to do and that you kept your promises,” he said.
McAllister, who grew up and still lives in Naugatuck with his wife, Dana, of 45 years, saw action in the Vietnam War as a member of the Air Force during the early 1970s, came out, then earned his degree at night while working in banking. In 1989, he was hired as the tax assessor by the Borough of Naugatuck and eventually spent 24 years in finance there, most as borough controller, where he handled $100 million budgets, even running the school district’s finances there for a time. He was known as someone who skillfully handled finances “down to the penny.”
He arrived in Region 14 in 2013 where the character he demonstrated in Naugatuck was now enjoyed by those in Bethlehem and Woodbury.
Nonnewaug High School Principal Pam Sordi said many leaders have come and gone during McAllister’s tenure, often creating instability at the top. Thankfully, she said, McAllister was always there to provide guidance and a lifetime of wisdom.
“Wayne genuinely cares about people. His leadership style prioritizes respect,” said Sordi, who called McAllister a great listener. “Wayne’s leadership style is to recognize and use people’s strengths, he trusts people to do their job, and that trust is reciprocal.”
Five years ago, McAllister was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and was given a 23% survival rate. Two weeks ago, he got a clean bill of health from his doctors, but McAllister said that new lease-on-life had nothing to do with his decision to begin a whole new career in law, one that he plans to use to help those who have little money to represent themselves.
Upon McAllister’s retirement from Naugatuck a decade ago, then-Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said the community was losing an irreplaceable asset, or, as then-Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools Alice L. Carolyn put it, a person to be treasured snd appreciated.
“If someone is in need, Wayne is the first to volunteer to help in anyway he can. He is a man of ultimate integrity, a best friend we all dream of having, and a coworker who makes work a pleasure. He has a ready wit and a caring nature. He keeps confidences and works well behind the scenes or in the limelight, though he prefers to remain in the shadows,” Carolyn said.
It was more of the same in Region 14 where McAllister quietly went about handling the district’s finances in a prudent manner, while also being heavily involved in the school community, far beyond the crunching of numbers, often seen at sporting events, concerts, and awards ceremonies, always with a love for watching students perform and learn.
In early 2021, McAllister was all set to retire from Central Office when he got a call asking if he would stay on and serve as the school systems’s acting superintendent, in light of the sudden suspension and subsequent firing of then-superintendent, Joseph Olzacki.
Those were tumultuous times for the district and many say it was McAllister’s willingness to step in that helped the district pull through.
“It was supposed to be just for six weeks, but it’s going to end up being a succession of 13 consecutive assignments,” McAllister joked.
Woodbury Middle School Principal Bill Nemec said McAllister was the perfect man for the job following Olzacki’s departure, which was precipitated, in part, after both teachers and administrators gave Olzacki a vote of no confidence.
“Wayne was the support system for the district when we needed it the most. He was there to lean on and trust. He brought us in the right direction and really kept us afloat and moving forward and gave us the ability to run our schools,” Nemec said.
McAllister said it was himself that was lucky and called his time in Region 14 among the most rewarding chapters in what has been a storied career.
“I don’t consider myself an educational leader, but what I am is a leader of educators. You let the people who know what to do do what they know, and we have really settled things down here,” McAllister said.
McAllister says his style was born during his summers in Vermont as a child where he worked and played on his grand- and great-grandparents farms. It was there that he learned the value of hard work, honesty and good will.
Whether it was walks along the railroad tracks with his grandmother or mowing the lawn for his grandfather, at $3 per mow, then eventually buying the tractor from his grandfather by paying him back a dollar per week, so he could start his own business, McAllister said those are the days he holds near and dear.
He also plays multiple instruments and once had his own band.
His biggest joy, though, is his family, which also includes his two daughters and four grandchildren.