All In The Family
● By Robert Frey
The Judice Family’s Education LegacyBy Hailey Hensgens Fleming
There’s something particularly powerful about a passionate teacher. They choose to spend their days working with other people’s children, encouraging and believing the best, all in an effort to equip them with the tools necessary to achieve a brighter future. I think many of us could recall at least one act of compassion, kindness or a contagious excitement for a subject by a teacher that positively affected our lives and maybe even helped determine the kind of person we wanted to be. Just imagine if those same inspirational figures were around for more than the 8-hour school day and instead, made up several members of your family. Such is the case for the Judice family, a legacy of educators that span three generations, who have lived and served in the Acadiana community.
Tracing all the way back to the 1930s, members of the Judice family have been ever present in Acadiana’s educational system. Although coming to education of their own accord, some members of the family report it was the influence of another family member who drew them to the profession. Michael Judice, the family patriarch who is currently completing an 11-year stretch as an Assistant Superintendent for Iberia Parish Schools, contributes his initial desire to become an educator to the influence of his older sister and brother-in-law, T.J. and Audrey Viator. “I was a good athlete in high school and my brother-in-law was a coach and I wanted to be like him. I wanted to coach young people,” Michael explains. Likewise, Kevin Judice says it was due to the guidance of his wife, Stephanie, and father, Michael Judice, that he was even open to a career as an educator.
Despite finding themselves in the same profession, the paths that led them to that point are quite distinct and stand as proof that career paths and success can take several different, sometimes unexpected, forms. Stephanie Judice found her way to education through her passion for literature and creative writing. Before this revelation she was working in an unrelated field and could tell things just weren’t right. She recounts, “I was working for a petroleum service corporation and I knew I was not in my element. So, I was looking to go back to something I loved, which was literature. Teaching just seemed like the best option.” She continues, “What I didn’t expect was to love working with the students as much as I did. Just seeing them engage and enjoy learning was exciting to me and then I was hooked.” Twenty years and multiple certifications later, Stephanie enjoys a fulfilling career as an itinerant Gifted and Talented Instructor. She’s worked with grades ranging from elementary to high school and her creative methods have garnered multiple accolades and national recognition as a recipient of the Milken Educator Award.
In contrast, Michael Judice’s career was not so straight forward. Although he began teaching straight out of college, he chose to answer the call and serve his country during the Vietnam War as a Naval Officer. When he returned, forced to find a job that provided for his rapidly growing family, Michael spent ten years in oilfield sales until the field experienced a severe downturn in the 1980s. He chose to return to teaching temporarily but fell in love with education. He laughs, “You know, I only went back for one year and here I am 32 years later. I’ve loved every minute of it. I really have.” Within those 32 years, he’s worked as a coach, teacher, Anderson Middle’s assistant principal, Loreauville High’s principal, Assistant Superintendent and now Assistant Principal to Catholic High School in “retirement.”
Taking a page from his father’s book, Kevin made a similar mid-life career change after spending five years in the Army on a counter drug task force and several more working in local law enforcement as a patrol cop, detective and then head of the Narcotics Division. When a change in administration came along, Kevin decided to take a chance. “I decided that if I was going to have to change agencies and reinvent myself then I wanted to make a big change,” he recalls. With the encouragement of his family and his father’s example as a guide, Kevin embraced the world of education wholeheartedly and nine years later he knows he’s exactly where he’s meant to be. “It’s like a second career for me and I’ve never looked back. I love it. I really do,” he says. “I saw enough of the other side of what could happen when kids don’t have someone to offer guidance and I’m positive I can be a better influence from an education standpoint knowing what I know and having seen what I’ve seen.”
Although unique in inception, each of their careers are similar in that they’ve pursued their passions to the fullest and have chosen to impart that knowledge to others. With Kevin’s extensive background in law enforcement and civic service, he’s passionate about finding exciting ways to teach his Catholic High students about American history, government systems and criminal justice. Likewise, Stephanie has also lived out her passion for her subject matter in creative writing and English by publishing 15 books and working as a freelance editor in her spare time. With real-world experience to back themselves up, the Judice’s certainly make a power-packed team.
As you can imagine, having a family of educators who understand and can share in the highs and lows of the profession has truly brought each of them closer. It’s a dynamic that has strengthened bonds among extended family, and for Kevin and Stephanie, it’s strengthened their marriage as well. “It echoes with any career in any marriage. You have to support each other and help each other,” Kevin begins. “But, with two teachers, we definitely understand how much work it takes outside of the classroom.” Stephanie continues, “We can also collaborate on stuff and share ideas on what he can do in his class or I can do in mine. It’s fun and it makes a great partnership.”
If there’s one thing they can all agree on, it’s that being an educator is most gratifying. “Probably the most rewarding experience you can have is when, years later, a student comes back and tells you how you affected their life or made a difference,” explains Michael. “That really is worth so much more than the monetary value of the job. Just feeling that you’ve helped someone along.” Although a teacher’s salary can be less than enticing, that never kept the Judice’s from doing what they loved. They know their success is not gauged by monetary compensation but by the impacts they have on the lives of students. “Too often now, kids have this idea that the more money they make the happier they’ll be and that’s just not the case,” Kevin says. “We get up and we’re ready to go to work every single day. It’s something that we truly enjoy.”
Pursuing your passion in life has always been what the Judice’s stressed to their students and especially their own children. It was a decision each of Michael’s children made on their own and, in the sincerest form of flattery, some chose to follow in his footsteps. Of his eight kids, Michael’s son, Brad, is currently serving as Assistant Principal at Delcambre High, his daughter, Kim Judice Leblanc, as a teacher at Iberia Middle, and Kevin as a teacher at Catholic High. Brad’s spouse, Jean, teaches in the Talented Program, Kevin’s wife, Stephanie, as a GT instructor and their cousin, Chris, at Assembly Christian.
It has yet to be seen whether or not the legacy will continue, but it is not a burden Kevin and Stephanie have placed on their four children: Justin, Jacob, Noelle and Jackson. “Honestly, I encourage them to consider every career path. Follow those strings and see where they go. See where your talents can best serve not only yourself, but your family and then your community,” explains Kevin. He adds, “I’m hoping that, not only by the things we’ve taught our kids as Mom and Dad, but that the lives we’ve led will also help influence them. If that influence leads them into education then so be it. It’s a good life.”
The Judice’s Back to School Tips• Stephanie Judice - “Relax and enjoy yourself over the summer, but read something! It doesn’t have to be “Huckleberry Finn.” A fiction novel or even comic books will do.”
• Kevin Judice - “Put down the electronic device and read. Being ready for college doesn’t just happen. You have to develop and practice those skills in high school to be successful in college.”
• Kim Judice Leblanc - “Since I teach middle school, I feel the students are shocked with the freedom they receive, so it’s important for them to be organized and self-disciplined. They are used to “signed papers” being sent home, which doesn’t happen in middle school, so they have to stay up with their school work and grades. It’s a big change for them. These two years, we are grooming them for high school.”
• Michael Judice - “Stay positive, always do your best and achieve as high as you can no matter what subject or area of focus you’re in. If you always try to do your best it’s going to work out in the long run.”
• Cheryl Freyou (gifted instructor and family friend) - “Have a positive and open perspective concerning new subjects and teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s why we’re here. And, having a planner/calendar will help with your organization skills.”