MCAA Director Wayne Livingston: ‘You Just Have to Keep Pushing Through’
March 15, 2023 | Jeffrey Good
In 35 years as a Florida public school educator, Wayne Livingston saw that when it comes to meeting the needs of each young learner, one size does not fit all. That’s why he’s excited to serve as the first Director of Marion County Acceleration Academies.
“For years, I’ve been saying, ‘Man, we need something else to offer students,” says Livingston, who has worked as a special education teacher, sports coach and school principal in traditional schools. “I appreciate that Marion County school officials support this idea,” says Livingston, who spent 35 years working as a special education teacher, sports coach and school principal in traditional Marion County public schools. “Our mission is really simple: give the graduation candidates another chance. Let them take ownership, as compared to saying ‘You failed in a traditional setting. It’s too late, it’s over.’ ”
Livingston, a 59-year-old father of two, knows something about pursuing a different path. Growing up in Harlem, he saw too many of his neighbors and friends get caught up in addiction, crime and unrealized potential. Early on, he decided to pursue a different route — to strive for success in the classroom, in sports, and in life.
“I stayed on the positive side because of athletics,” says Livingston, whose standout performances as a runner and football player earned him a shoebox full of college scholarship offers — including one to the University of Florida, where he was one of the track team’s all-time best performers and earned a degree in education.
Livingston hadn’t planned to settle in Florida, but during his senior year at UF, he did an internship as a physical education teacher at North Marion High School. The principal saw how well Livingston connected with the students and offered him a job — not as a PE teacher but as a special educator.
At 22, Livingston was just a few years older than many of his students. He was old enough to be an authority figure, but young enough to be relatable. As he helped them work through academic, personal and emotional challenges, he showed them that he would stay right by their side, no matter what.
Livingston was paying it forward. Growing up, he had to deal with a serious stutter and he fondly recalls a middle school science teacher who provided firm but loving guidance and encouragement to help him overcome the challenge. Just as he remembers her support, so do Livingston’s former students — some now in their 50s — remember his.
“You don’t know your impact on a person,” he says. “The work I’m doing now with these kids is giving them a second chance, in some cases a third chance, to look at life differently.”
Livingston is a big man with kind eyes who moves quietly through the MCAA campus, checking in with graduation candidates and encouraging him to be their best selves.
“You’re closer to success than you might realize,” he tells them. “You just have to keep pushing through.”