New Year, New Adventures: Lori Coyne Retires From Stafford School District

By David Biggy | Jan 08, 2020
Photo by: David Biggy Lori Coyne (green shirt) gathers with Stafford Township School District administrative staff during her colleagues' sendoff for her on Dec. 17.

Stafford Township, NJ — For Lori Coyne, the new year brings new opportunities to travel.

“I love to travel and explore, and Australia and New Zealand are the top two places on my adventure list,” said Coyne, who at the conclusion of 2019 retired from her position as principal of Stafford Township’s Ronald L. Meinders Primary Learning Center. “I want to explore more of South America, and I definitely want to go back to Thailand. I loved Thailand the last time I was there.”

There’s no doubt Coyne has a lot of Dora the Explorer in her. And for the past 20 years, she has navigated her education career with class, compassion and courage – stretching her boundaries beyond her bachelor’s degree in biology to become a fixture within the Stafford Township School District.

“I had always wanted to go into teaching, but I stayed home for a long time to raise a family,” she said. “When the opportunity availed itself to me, I went back to get a master’s degree. But I thought I was going to teach science in high school. It wasn’t until I was going through my student teaching, here in Stafford, in fourth grade that I realized how much I loved elementary school.”

When Ocean Acres Elementary School opened its doors in 1999, Coyne was part of its staff. Since her inauguration into the district, she has held a half-dozen positions, including several within the administrative ranks, including a stint as the Oxycocus School’s principal.

Upon taking the principal position at PLC for the 2016-17 school year, Coyne told Superintendent George Chidiac she would be around for maybe four or five more years and then call it quits. But this past summer, she encountered a medical issue that required eye surgery and a series of follow-up treatments.

“It wasn’t fun, and that’s when I decided it was time to move on,” she said. “It was time to spend more time with the grandchildren and do more of the things I enjoy.”

Not that she hadn’t enjoyed her role as an educator. In fact, it was completely the opposite – Coyne loved every ounce of her experience in Stafford.

“Every year has been amazing. I’m truly honored to have served in this district,” said Coyne, who conceded that her favorite role was as PLC’s principal the past 3½ years. “The students are the best. The parents are amazing. And the staff is outstanding. I’ve been privileged to work with the best of the best, to be a part of such a wonderful, caring community of people.”

As Coyne now begins scheduling new trips to some of her favorite adventure spots on the planet – or devising the plans for her next gardening or painting project – she hands over the reins of PLC to Dawn Reo, whom Coyne believes will have little difficulty making the transition to principal and making it her own.

“Lori was dedicated and loved the kids, and she’d be the first one to dance or sing with them. I have big shoes to fill,” said Reo, who’s spent the past few months learning the ropes alongside Coyne. “From Lori, I learned to better organize things and make sure that you have enough meetings with your staff, to get their insight and input on things. And I also learned from her not to make any rash decision or big changes without talking to parents about them. I’ll take what Lori has done and make it my own, but first and foremost, I want to make sure the kids are treated with respect.”

Coyne said it took her some time to realize it was OK to turn over responsibility to somebody new.

“The one good thing about leaving in the middle of a school year is Dawn and I have had plenty of time to collaborate and go over things,” she said. “Dawn is going to make some changes, and that’s OK. She’s going to do great things with PLC.”

Of course, Coyne fully expects some great things ahead during her retirement years. And who knows? She may soon end up back in the Amazon or some other exotic location, sending video back to PLC students of a thermal hot bath in the mountains of Ecuador.

“I’ve had nothing but a wonderful experience in Stafford,” she said. “Everything I did was for the children of the district, and I’m really going to miss all the great people I had the privilege to work with during the past 20 years.”

— David Biggy

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