TWIN FALLS — Kasey Teske’s career has revolved around helping all of his students. Over the past 20 years he’s worked at schools with large groups of migrant, refugee and low-income students. He helps them clarify their goals and take steps toward achieving them.
The Canyon Ridge High School principal’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
Teske, who graduated from Twin Falls High School in 1990, has been named Principal of the Year by the Idaho Association of Secondary School Principals.
It’s one of the highest statewide honors a middle or high school principal can receive.
He’ll be recognized Aug. 3 during an Idaho Association of School Administrators conference in Boise and at an institute for school principals Sept. 25 in Washington, D.C.
Teske, who has been Canyon Ridge’s principal for four years, said Tuesday he was surprised and honored to find out he was nominated. He went through an interview with an award selection committee.
“When they called to tell me I was selected as Principal of the Year, I was like ‘Whoa,’” he said. “As a principal, I never feel like I’ve arrived.”
There’s always room for growth as a person and educator, Teske said. And he’s quick to credit the staff at Canyon Ridge High for successes at the school.
Employees strive to help students see the big picture, Teske said, which helps overcome the tough “day-to-day grind.”
Candidates for the award were required to compile a portfolio of accomplishments, including how their leadership positively affected student achievement.
“(Teske is) someone who has been a leader and proven himself in a lot of venues,” said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
Teske is known throughout Idaho, is highly motivated and works hard, Winslow said. “It’s nice to see him recognized.”
Canyon Ridge focuses on empowering students to make their own decisions about learning. And, research shows, it’s beneficial for students to participate in extracurricular school activities.
But for some students who are living in poverty, that’s a challenge. So Canyon Ridge created a new offering this semester: club days twice a month.
It allows all students — including those who work or take care of younger siblings after school — to participate in a club during the school day.
Students filled out a survey about their interests, and 50 clubs were formed.
Another new initiative: campus improvement day, with the inaugural event Friday. Each advisory class will have a portion of the school building they’ll be in charge of cleaning and beautifying.
It’s a way for teens to have ownership of their school, Teske said.
Academically, Canyon Ridge has a “go on” focus under a GEAR UP grant, encouraging students to pursue next steps after graduation such as workforce training, enlisting in the U.S. armed forces or going to college.
“We’ve really been beating that down hard,” Teske said.
L.T. Erickson, secondary programs director for the Twin Falls School District, nominated Teske for the award.
“He has such an amazing vision for what he wants to do at the school as a whole,” Erickson said. “And he works with his staff to implement that and make it become a reality.”
Teske focuses on student achievement and makes it a priority for every student to pursue some type of post-high school education, Erickson said. “It is an expectation that they will go on.”
Teske’s staff members admire his vision, Erickson said. “He’s always trying to improve and progress.”
The number of Canyon Ridge students taking dual credit classes — earning both high school and college credits simultaneously — doubled this school year.
And last year, Canyon Ridge’s graduation climbed to 89 percent, up one percentage point. “We’re hoping to break that 90 percent threshold,” Teske said.
It’s quite an accomplishment, he said, especially considering the large population of refugee students — more than 100.
“We keep getting more and more,” Teske said.
He grew up in Twin Falls, attending Morningside Elementary School for kindergarten, Lincoln Elementary School, Robert Stuart Middle School and Twin Falls High School.
He attended Ricks College for one year before serving a two-year church mission in Korea. That experience, Teske said, helped him understand cultural differences “outside of sheltered Idaho.”
When he returned, he spent two years at the College of Southern Idaho and two years at Idaho State University. He later went on to earn advanced degrees, including a doctorate in education.
Teske started his career in 1997 as a biology teacher at Twin Falls High.
“It was kind of cool to be hired back in the high school I used to attend,” he said. He saw teachers’ dedication behind the scenes, which “you don’t fully appreciate as a student.”
Teske later taught science and was a comprehensive school reform grant coordinator at Robert Stuart Middle School and was vice principal at Oregon Trail Elementary School.
He was principal at Oregon Trail for four years and principal at Robert Stuart for three years.
Teske’s efforts as an educator boil down to helping students prepare for the real world.
Realistically, students will remember some class content and forget some, Teske said. “I think the most important thing is for them to be life-ready.”