Photo courtesy of Torsie Judkins

Torsie Judkins has a special profile not often found among African Americans. He is an independent school leader and starting July 1, 2023, he will bring his leadership skills to Madison’s Wingra School on Monroe Street. Judkins will be the first Black permanent school head of the independent school that opened as a progressive, child-centered school in 1972. Currently a resident of Allentown, PA, where he served as the Director of Enrollment Management at Moravian Academy, Torsie hails from North Carolina. Born in Henderson, NC and raised in Durham, he was a public-school student until 8th grade. Durham desegregated its schools in 1972 and Torsie began his independent school journey at Durham Academy as a 9th grader.

After graduating from Durham Academy Torsie matriculated at North Carolina Wesleyan University where he played basketball. After graduation he began a career in telecommunications but former teachers at Durham encouraged him to return “home” and serve as the school’s technology teacher. He eventually became Durham’s Diversity Coordinator, a position he served in for 10 years. Later he and his family moved to West Chester County, New York where he spent 12 years at the Upper East Side’s Town School. Later, he moved to a school in Brooklyn where he served as the Director of Admission and Enrollment for the International School of Brooklyn for 5 years. From New York, the Judkins Family moved to Allentown, PA just as COVID was winding down.

Wingra School came calling last year and Torsie thought it was too soon to move the family again. However, WIngra seemed prepared to wait. A married father of 12-year-old soccer playing twin girls, Judkins was attracted by two things—Wingra’s progressive school philosophy and the chance to move somewhere his girls would have family. His father-in-law, Michael Rewey, is a Department of Transportation retiree here in Madison. Interestingly, Judkins children will not attend Wingra. As middle school students they would only have one year at the K-8 school so the family thought it best that the girls get acclimated to the district they will attend for high school—Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD).

Judkins has two primary goals in his role as Head of School at Wingra. He wants to recruit a more diverse staff and student body. Both will be major challenges. Madison Metropolitan School District and all the districts surrounding Madison are attempting to do the same thing. Because of collective bargaining public schools often are prepared to offer larger salaries than independent or private schools. Also, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the largest producer of teachers in this area, graduates a very small number of teachers of color. Judkins hopes to recruit former teacher colleagues from New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. He believes he can sell them on the quality of life and opportunities Madison offers.

Judkins second challenge is to recruit more students of color to Wingra. Again, he faces some major obstacles. Most families of color, especially African Americans either choose private religious schools or move to suburban communities with highly rated public schools when looking for school options. Judkins says his major job is, “convincing families of color of the value of progressive education.”

Judkins is excited about the challenges placed before him and stated that another of the things that drew him to Wingra was their intentionality around hiring a Black Head of School. Given his long experience with independent schools, Judkins is likely to find success in many areas of school administration here. Let’s hope his goals of diversifying both the staff and the students become a reality. It would be nice to know some Black and independent students and teachers!