In this town of less than 4,500 people, Randy Jensen has taken 3,000 students to lunch.
Anyone who has played Little League baseball in the past 25 years has shared the field with Coach Jensen.
One of four Republicans vying for state superintendent of public instruction, Jensen hopes to bring the same small-town approach to statewide office.
“I’m really big on relationships – in small towns you’re able to build a lot of relationships with a lot of people,” he said. “In a small town, you can make a big difference.”
Jensen grew up just 30 miles from where he has spent a 29-year career in education at American Falls’ William Thomas Middle School. He taught and coached before becoming principal at age 27, a post he has held for 25 years.
The small-school environment suits Jensen. He picks four students a week — every week for 750 weeks — and takes them to lunch at Pizza Hut.
That’s 3,000 pizzas over in his career.
“I love watching them blossom from sixth to eighth grade,” Jensen said. “In sixth grade, they come in as rosebuds. In seventh grade, they can be a little thorny. By eighth grade, they’ve blossomed into such great kids.”
Jensen ran the town’s Little League program for a decade.
He still pitches batting practice or hits fly balls to high school baseball teams.
One of Jensen’s original students, Amy Manning, loved him so much that she drove her own children 60 miles so they could have him too.
“He’s always so energetic, he’s helpful and he’s excited to be at work every day,” she said.
Jensen has lots of families like the Mannings in his life; many of his students are second-generation kids. Those relationships are so important to him that he won’t feel like a loser if he loses this election.
“Sometimes I’ve thought the best thing for me is to lose this election,” Jensen said. “I’ve got a great life in a great town.”
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