Torsie Judkins has more than 20 years of experience working in independent school education, and the Durham Academy Class of 1991 graduate says he owes his career to a chance pairing thanks to his passion for golf.
In spring of 2000, Judkins had graduated from North Carolina Wesleyan College with a degree in business administration, and was working with Verizon in the Research Triangle Park. He would leave work early enough to help his former coach Verle Regnerus (also assistant Upper School director and registrar) with varsity baseball. Judkins ran into lots of his former teachers when he was on campus.
“My independent education journey started on the golf course by being paired up with Ed Costello [DA’s head of school from 1999–2013] at the alumni golf tournament,” Judkins remembers. “Ed said [former alumni director] Bobbie Hardaker has really been saying that we need to hire you at DA. I was like, what? Are you serious? … I didn’t think much of it.”
After an interview, Judkins was offered and accepted a job at the Middle School, teaching a class that was then called computer. He also took on roles serving as a seventh-grade advisor, coaching eighth-grade girls basketball, helping coach varsity baseball and chaperoning debate trips. In 2006, Judkins was tapped as DA’s first director of diversity and associate director of admissions.
“I did everything I could at DA. I remember Ed would tell me every year: Education is something you should really stick with, you should get your master's degree and do all these different things,” Judkins said. “So every year I listened to Ed, and he was right. Great things have happened. Ed was a really good mentor for me. We've kept in touch, and as a new opportunity came up, I would reach out to him and ask what he thought.”
There have been many new opportunities, and he took Costello’s advice and earned a Master of Professional Studies in Educational Leadership from Manhattanville College.
Judkins left DA in 2009 to work with financial aid and admissions at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York. He then served as director of community and diversity at The Town School in Manhattan, and has been director of admissions and enrollment at International School of Brooklyn since 2018. This spring, he was named the first director of enrollment management at Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Moravian Academy is a 275-year-old school with three campuses and 900 students from age 3 through grade 12. It has operated with an admissions director for each campus, and Judkins will be the first to oversee admissions for the entire school. He will head a six-person team and will work on forming community partnerships, establishing long-term enrollment goals and strategic innovations.
Judkins, his wife, Bria, and their 10-year-old twins, Arlee and Ella, will move to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley this summer. It will be a big change for Judkins — he works in an urban setting with a nearly one-hour commute via train to Grand Central Station and then takes the subway or bikes over the Brooklyn Bridge — and also for his family. Currently, they live 12 miles north of New York City on the campus of Hackley School, where Bria is the head Middle and Upper School librarian and the girls are fourth-graders.
“The Lehigh Valley is an area where there's a lot of influx of people moving from New York City — it's over a million people in the Lehigh Valley area now,” Judkins said. Moravian Academy is looking to corner an independent school market that’s about 90 minutes from the city, and it also wants to become more diverse.
“Any time you're working in admissions, you're kind of the gatekeeper of the school. You want to be able to bring in a diverse community. So there will be a lot of that work involved. I think, given my history and personal background, that was one of the things that was appealing about me as a candidate, so I will be helping out with that. I'm still learning the area. It's clearly not as diverse as New York City, but I think it's similar to Westchester County where we live.
“There are pockets of areas [in the Lehigh Valley] that are more diverse than other areas, but then it turns into transportation. Do you want to commute 30, 40 minutes to go to Moravian? How do you get there? How do you get home? There are a lot of challenges I'll be helping the school with. But I have to learn, too, and that's going to be a nice learning curve for me.”
Coming to Durham Academy in ninth grade was a life-changing experience for Judkins.
“I got a terrific education in the Durham public schools and made some lifelong connections and still keep up with my middle school friends. But I think DA just gave me this real passion for learning and being able to appreciate just what education means. That was something that I'll never forget.
“Sitting in Lou Parry's physics class or in Mrs. [Janice] Ching's English class and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and just understanding and appreciating. [Former Upper School math teacher] Jim Ebert pushing me in math class. Those were amazing times in my life. I mean, it was hard. It was stressful and I struggled at times, but looking back on it, it was the best thing to ever happen to me.”
Judkins played basketball and baseball, and his first two years at DA he ran cross-country — “Those cross-country teams were the only times I won a state title. [Former cross-country and track and field coach and Upper School math teacher] Dennis Cullen won them all the time.” He keeps up with DA friends — Charlie Shipman ’92 is a frequent golf partner, and Douglas Dicconson ’91 brings his sons over for outdoor playdates with Judkins’ girls. And Judkins serves on the DA Alumni Board.
“DA means the world to me,” Judkins said. “DA is the root and the foundation of everything I've become as a man, as a father, as a husband, as a person. And I just appreciate that, and I love being able to continue that relationship and partnership with DA.”
When Judkins was working at The Town School, his head of school recommended that he participate in the Institute for Aspiring Heads of School, an 18-month fellowship program sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools. Judkins said he would eventually like to be a head of school, has interviewed for several openings and has been a finalist a couple of times. “I think this [Moravian Academy] job is a really good stepping stone for that because I'll be able to supervise people and I'll be able to do some visionary work for the school.”
Judkins has been passionate about working with and mentoring kids since he was a camp counselor at the YMCA during high school, but he never expected to go into education. So what has kept him working in schools for more than 20 years?
“Oh gosh, it's just the impact on kids’ lives. That's the most important piece. When I hear from former DA students, former Town students, former Rye Country Day students, and they tell me wonderful things that they learned from me or from a situation that we've talked about, that's what keeps me in it, being able to change lives and impact lives.”