When asked to write about Judy Bloch’s contributions to University School of Milwaukee, I knew I faced a herculean task. Judy has directed or supported countless initiatives and programs since coming to University School 34 years ago. Middle School Learning Center Teacher Sandi Deshur captures her impact best: “Judy wears so many hats, she could own a hat store.”
Judy was hired in 1984 to launch a Learning Center at USM, through which trained professionals would assist students who needed extra help. While the center began with a small grant, it has become an integral part of USM. Cheryl Vaughn, a Middle School Learning Center teacher, credits Judy’s expertise for the program’s success, saying that she has an “encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to the symptoms, diagnosis, and services for students with learning challenges.”
Not only did Judy mentor teachers within her department, but she also taught in the program for many years. She worked with students in all three divisions and was especially regarded for her ability to teach high-level math. Cheryl has seen her work with students first hand and calls her a “master of mathematics.”
Judy used her mathematical expertise and business background to develop I.D.E.A.S. at USM (now Summer I.D.E.A.S.), a program she has directed since 1992. She is proud of the forward-thinking nature of the program, commenting that, “Summer I.D.E.A.S. has always been about experiential, hands-on learning, long before the importance of that had become an emphasis in today’s approach to education.” Since its inception, more than 11,000 students and hundreds of teachers have been involved in the program.
Will Piper ’96, Middle School social studies teacher, worked as Judy’s assistant in the Summer I.D.E.A.S. office as a college student, and credits her with being a “life-long mentor.” Will characterizes his summer work as incredibly rewarding: “Sitting at the table across from Judy’s desk, I learned a ton about the administrative side of teaching and about running the complex system that is Summer I.D.E.A.S.” Will also revealed something that many don’t know: “Judy is a master prankster and can take a joke in stride.” Will recalled that he and Judy had some fun with former USM bus driver Wayne Rick by creating a fake file for a student named Frank Furter, who needed transportation to his address—the Patrick Cudahy plant. It wasn’t until they dropped several clues about “that hot dog” that Mr. Rick got the joke and the three of them “erupted in a cacophony of laughter.”
Judy’s work in the Learning Center and Summer I.D.E.A.S. program showcases the public face of her strong leadership, but she is also the leader of less-visible initiatives that are just as important to advancing the vision and maintaining the quality of USM. Because of her abilities as a wordsmith, she has twice been tapped to refine the school’s mission statement.
I served with her on the Curriculum Coordination Team and admired how she guided us toward a more pragmatic process for curriculum documentation. I saw that same kind of innovative leadership when she chaired the Faculty Evaluation Committee that created our current system. Her careful research and regard for best practices led us to develop a system encouraging teachers to reflect upon their growth and aspirations as educators.
Judy’s long career in education has made her a leader of leaders not only at USM but also nationally among independent schools. Here at USM, she has led the school’s re-accreditation process four times. Former Head of School Ward Ghory calls Judy “a consummate committee and task-force leader.” Ward remembered just how organized Judy was when preparing for an Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) accreditation team. “Judy stocked thumb drives with report templates and individualized assignments that made everyone’s work easier and assured common editing standards.” Judy has co-chaired many ISACS accreditation teams to help other independent schools improve their programming and culture. Because of her expertise in this area, ISACS often asks her to speak at their yearly conference. In fact, when ISACS wanted to revise its accreditation guide, they appointed Judy to the committee overseeing this task.
A teacher of teachers, Judy is a confidant to many who have come to rely on her good advice. Head of School Laura Fuller calls Judy “one of the most thoughtful and accomplished educators I have encountered during my career,” adding that “she has been my personal resource on so many various topics and I have learned to rely on her wisdom and balance.”
I could say the same thing, as one of many who are living embodiments of how Judy’s example lives on through so many of us who’ve been lucky enough to work with her. Consummate teacher that she is in whatever job she does, her legacy at USM is reflected in the countless lives she’s touched—and the countless peers she’s inspired.
Judy Bloch, who will retire in August, looks forward to taking courses at UW-Milwaukee, reading, traveling with her husband, enjoying her grandsons, and volunteering. She will stay connected to USM by serving as a consultant in the next round of the school’s accreditation process starting in 2018-19.
Written by Elaine Griffin, assistant head of Upper School and Upper School English teacher.