Dec. 11 , 2006

Farewell to a 'beautiful mentor'

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

After working more than 30 years for the Dassel-Cokato School District, Linda Teske will retire as director of the Alternative Learning Center.

“I know this is the right time,” Teske said. “I’m excited to be leaving, loving my job,” she added.

Born and raised in Dassel, Teske began teaching at the Dassel High School as a speech and English teacher in 1970.

In 1980, Teske along with Mark Herman, Heidi Kepley and Martin Kohler, were assigned to help collaborate a drop-out prevention program for at-risk students that was later to be called FOCUS, or Facing Our Challenges with Unconditional Support.

“I still get letters and calls from people thanking me for that program,” Teske said.

Even though the FOCUS program continued, “there was still a need to offer alternative academic classes – there were still students who weren’t successful in class – who felt alienated in the classroom, and struggled with academics,” Teske explained.

“There needed to be a different delivery system to teach these types of students,” she said.

In 1996, Teske became the director of the ALC and is proud of the program.

Classes are teacher-lead, where the teacher’s design the coursework providing hands-on learning, as opposed to textbook learning.

“We had to vary what wasn’t working at the high school,” Teske said.

The ALC has many misconceptions within the community including, it’s a “dumping ground for the high school,” Teske said.

“That’s not the case, here,” she said. “No one is forced here. They are voluntarily placed by the student and parents.”

There are so many things Teske has enjoyed about teaching, but what she found the most rewarding was seeing the changes in students.

“When they experience success, when they learn to feel good about themselves . . . I’ve just had a blast,” she said.

Also, working for the DC school system has been an honor for Teske.

“The district and the boards have been so supportive of services for at-risk programs,” Teske said.

After working with students from other districts, Teske has learned that DC is ahead of many of them as far as intervention and prevention for at-risk kids.

“The community should be proud of that,” she said.

What challenged her the most about working with at-risk students is that, as a teacher, she can’t prevent the influences and obstacles outside of the school that keep pulling the kids back to their self-defeating behaviors, Teske said.

“I’ve enjoyed working with these kids. I’ve never felt tremendous disrespect; some are the nicest, most thoughtful,” Teske said.

Some have said how brave she must be to work with the kids. “I’ve never felt fear,” she said. In fact, during her time at DC, there has only been one physical fight between the students. “It isn’t any different than across the road,” she added.

“I’ve always felt respected,” she said.

“I will miss it, but I am looking forward to whatever is going to be,” Teske said about retiring.

After Rick Eggert, a very close friend and colleague, died last year, she was reminded that there is a time for change. And although she has enjoyed her job, she says “There’s probably something else for me to do. Change is good.”

With the cold moving in, Teske can’t wait to spend three months of the winter in Arizona. “It’s been my dream to get out of the cold weather,” she said.

Teske will miss her coworkers tremendously. Throughout the years, she has developed excellent friendships from the day-to-day life at the ALC, she said.

“We love to laugh and enjoy life,” she said.

When she retires at the end of the month, Teske has a list of things to do including organizing her closets and family photos, but she does plan on doing some traveling, as well.

“Italy is at the top of my list,” she said.

‘A beautiful mentor’

Not only will Teske miss her colleagues and students, they will miss her as well.

Heidi Kepley, high school counselor, has had the “amazing privilege” of working with Teske throughout her career at DC including the development of the FOCUS program.

“She is a beautiful mentor and role model for the kids. She has a unique caring ability to touch the lives of kids,” Kepley said.

During the development of the FOCUS program, Teske was instrumental in the development of the model of personal goal attainment. This model is now used throughout the state, according to Kepley.

Teske has also begun some “amazing traditions” that have stood the test of time including the FOCUS banquet, or what is now the end-of-the-year ALC banquet, and the young moms’ support group.

Also, what has become a yearly tradition is the ALC open house for the holidays, in which the ALC is decorated for Christmas and open to the public. This year’s open house will be Wednesday, Dec. 20 from 3:30 to 7 p.m. at the ALC building, next to Syngenta Seeds off of Highway 12 near Cokato.

All of these “lovely traditions are examples of the love Linda exemplifies,” Kepley said.

Her “warm and nurturing” nature has allowed her to be both respected and loved by her students, Kepley said.

“I’m personally devastated. She has left such a legacy. She’ll be hard to replace,” Kepley said.

Glory Kibbel, the interim director for alternative school programs has spoken about the success of the ALC.

“What I have observed in my eight years of working with Linda, she has continually moved the program forward. She made it a viable program that required a high level of student achievement,” Kibbel said.

High School Principal Mark Herman worked 15 years with Teske as co-directors of the FOCUS program.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better person to team teach with,” Herman said of Teske.

“She will be greatly missed, but we wish her well in her retirement,” he said.

The average teacher working with at-risk kids usually only lasts three years, according to Herman.

“She has been the heart and soul of the at-risk program for 27 years,” Herman said.

“She has changed and redirected many lives to become productive members of the community,” he said.

Koreen Heller, 36, of Cokato is an example of Teske’s love and dedication to her job.

“Linda is very strong-willed – if she sees potential, she’ll keep going,” Heller said.

Heller quit school and later became involved in the young moms’ support group. Teske coaxed Heller in attending night school at the ALC to graduate high school. Heller became the first person to graduate from the ALC in 1998, after it opened in 1997.

“Linda always believed in me,” Heller said. Now, Heller’s daughter attends the ALC.

“DC will never be the same without Linda – she will be missed by everybody,” she said.

Another one of her students, Brandon Fank, 30, of Dassel, has quite the success story.

Before the FOCUS program, Fank had lost a half-year of school due to drugs and alcohol.

“[FOCUS] helped me out a lot,” Fank said. “After having been in the program, it opened my eyes,” he added.

He went to treatment, got caught up on school work, and was later asked to be a mentor to the other kids in the program.

“It was great to help them out, after they helped me out,” Fank said.

As far as Teske, “She was one of the most understanding, most caring,” Fank said. He calls it “tough love.” “She really cared about what she was doing – you could see it.”

Fank is now a sergeant first class in the Army, stationed in Fort Rucker, Ala. and is married with children.

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