Wasatch Academy headmaster announces plans for retirement
By Doug Lowe
MT. PLEASANT—Last month, Terry Feeney, chairman of Wasatch Academy Board of Trustees, alerted the school’s community of parents, students, alumni and staff that longtime Head of School Joseph Loftin, widely credited with saving the institution from closure in the 1980s, would begin a phased retirement this coming summer.
“I will be stepping down but still be around for the next school year,” Loftin explained. Beginning in July 2020, James Matthew Culberson, who is currently the head of Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, Washington will become the new head of school at Wasatch.
However, Loftin will still be helping the school by continuing to maintain and build local, national and international relationships that have enabled Wasatch Academy to become one of the most successful residential prep schools west of the Mississippi.
The decision to have Loftin continue handling development and recruitment during the 2020-21 school year will enable Culberson, as the new head of school, to focus on the school’s primary mission—educating future leaders with the best possible programs and staff. Then, at the end of the year, Loftin will bow out completely.
This appointment of Culberson as Loftin’s replacement is the result of a search that started 10 months ago. From an initial pool of more than 100 candidates who expressed interest in the position, the search committee narrowed the pool to seven candidates, who participated in confidential interviews last month. Four finalists were invited to visit and meet with the senior administrative team and the committee members.
Culberson is no stranger to mountains, having grown up in the mountains of North Carolina, and having spent many summers as an Outward Bound staffer while working as a private school teacher.
He also spent more than a decade as a professional mountain guide, leading expeditions in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.
Culberson is also no stranger to Utah, having come here to join the faculty at Waterford School in Sandy before becoming head of The McGillis School in Salt Lake City. He was with McGillis for 10 years before assuming his current duties heading Charles Wright School in Tacoma.
Before leaving Wasatch Academy in Culberson’s hands, one of Loftin’s last responsibilities will be to ensure the new head of school gets acquainted with all the development and recruitment contacts Loftin has made over more than 30 years.
Loftin’s history with Wasatch goes back to 1988, when the school’s dejected headmaster quit in the middle of the school year. Loftin took over and defied expectations by gathering new donations and attracting the new students to keep the doors from closing after more 100 years of educational service.
When asked what he plans to do with himself come the fall of 2021, Loftin jokingly said, “Go fishing, I guess.” Then he admitted to not really being a fisherman and having thoughts of becoming a consultant who could help other schools needing assistance. “My future beyond the 2020-21 school year is wide open,” he said.
Leaving the area is a possibility since his wife, Kara, who expects to finish earning her Ph.D. in learning disabilities next month, has already been hired to head the Craig School in Mountain Lake, New Jersey, which serves students with learning disabilities.