Career Center chief Lynn Coale to step down in June

MIDDLEBURY — Lynn Coale harkened back to late 2001, when he applied — almost as a lark — to become director of the Patricia Hannaford Career Center (PHCC). He was finishing his Ph.D. studies and checking out career opportunities in school administration.
But neither Coale nor his family truly thought they would consider leaving their native Wyoming, where they had accumulated great friends and business contacts.
“It was kind of on a dare with my oldest daughter,” Coale recalled with a smile. “She said, ‘Dad, you’re always applying for these jobs in these itty-bitty towns in Wyoming. Why would you want to move?’”
So he applied for the PHCC job to in part demonstrate his willingness to go outside of his comfort zone.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get a callback,” Coale said.
But he did, from then-Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Jim Lombardo, who invited him to interview. Coale was subsequently offered the top administrative job at PHCC, which delivers career and technical education programs to high school students in the Addison Central, Northeast and Northwest supervisory unions.
Coale took the job, and the rest is PHCC history — which will change following this academic year. That’s because Coale has confirmed he will step down as director after a 15-year run during which the career center has dramatically expanded both its physical footprint and its program offerings.
At 62, Coale is not going to stop working; he’s got some projects in mind. But he’s spent more time at the PHCC than at any other job during his four decades in education, and he wants to do something else before officially starting his golden years.
“I’ve loved every minute of it here,” Coale said. “But I think it’s time for a change for both me and the school. I think it will be good to have new, invigorated leadership with fresh ideas and new energy.”
Whoever succeeds Coale will have some big shoes to fill.
Soon after his arrival in 2002, Coale helped the PHCC transition to self-governance. The school had previously been managed by the UD-3 board in concert with Middlebury Union Middle and High Schools.
Coale also took the reins of a major capital campaign and bond vote for the career center’s $3.7 million North Campus building, completed in Middlebury’s industrial park in 2006.
“There were some health and safety issues in this building, and everyone was crunched in here,” he said, referring to the center’s Charles Avenue campus attached to Middlebury Union High School.
So PHCC now has ample space in which to offer its 12 technical and six foundational programs, embracing such core academic areas as agriculture, arts and humanities, business, science, technology, engineering and math.
Coale has also presided over curriculum changes that have brought new courses, such as meat-cutting, visual communications and graphic design, and an array of health care-related offerings.
Because Coale and his colleagues through the years have made note of Vermont industries with graying workforces in need of an infusion of well-trained youths, the career center is turning out the next generation of butchers, nurses, diesel mechanics, among other well-paid professions. PHCC’s health care curriculum is a cooperative effort with Vermont Technical College and Porter Medical Center, so students get hands-on experience — and college credit.
“I’m really proud of these collaborations,” Coale said. “A student can get their LNA, LPN and RN (degrees) without leaving the career center.”
During Coale’s tenure PHCC has also beefed up its adult education offerings, thus providing area residents an opportunity to make career transitions or revisit professional paths they might have abandoned as teens. And he wants those adults to be able to qualify for college credits in the same manner that younger students can. It’s called “dual enrollment,” allowing PHCC students to accumulate post-secondary credits through their increasingly challenging career center studies.
Coale said he is particularly proud of the fact that the PHCC can offer up to 50 college credits, compared to zero when he first arrived on the scene in 2002.
“We have juniors now who are getting college credit,” Coale said. “I think we have installed a tremendous amount of rigor in all of our programs.”
Coale also touted the strides that have been made in the PHCC’s diesel program during the past decade. Participating students learn how to repair diesel equipment, which of course is widely used in the farming and trucking industries. Back in 2002, the program was turning out around a half-dozen graduates each year, according to Coale. That number has since increased dramatically, largely due to improved facilities.
“It became the cornerstone of our (North Campus) project,” Coale said of the diesel program.
But Coale’s run as director hasn’t all been peaches and cream.
“I’ve had to cut some programs I really didn’t want to cut,” he acknowledged, referring specifically to the building trades and video tech programs that were casualties of tight budgets and/or low enrollment.
And budgeting won’t get any easier for the next director, Coale suggested. The major reason for that is declining student enrollment in Addison County and indeed in most parts of Vermont.
“There were more than 800 students at MUHS when I got here,” Coale said. “There are just over 500 students there right now.”
It should be noted that Coale’s performance has been noticed outside of Addison County as well. It was in 2010 that the Vermont Principals’ Association named Coale the “Vermont Technical Director of the Year.”
Asked what he’ll do when he “graduates” from PHCC next year, Coale said he’s like to write “a book or two.” He is particularly passionate about the subject of making college more affordable to all students. Coale and his family will also continue modest farming at their Weybridge home.
The bottom line is that Coale still feels passionate about education and is looking for a new outlet for that energy.
“I’m not sure right now where that passion is going to lead me,” Coale said.
Jason Larocque is chairman of the PHCC board. He acknowledged that replacing Coale will be no easy task, but it is a charge the board will take on carefully and transparently in hopes of having a new leader in place prior to Coale’s departure.
“This is a major change for us, and we are not taking it lightly,” Larocque said.
With that in mind, PHCC on Wednesday, Sept. 14, was slated to form a subcommittee to shape the impending search. It’s a process that Larocque believes will involve ample input from citizens and school officials on not only what kind of individual they’d like to serve as the next PHCC director, but also a broader conversation on what the career center might do differently to even better serve area students in the future.
“We will use that community input to guide our search,” Larocque said. “We will look for the right candidate for where the PHCC is now, and where we want it to be in the future.”
The PHCC board will need to decide whether to make its search regional, national or international. The panel is keeping all of its options open — including the prospect of bringing in an interim director for a year if none in the eventual crop of candidates measures up for the job, according to Larocque.
Larocque threw a verbal bouquet in Coale’s direction.
“The career center is where it is today because of Lynn Coale,” Larocque said. “We wish him the best, and we’re happy for him.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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