Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom Chat: Dr. Mark Joraanstad, Superintendent, Saddle Mountain USD #90

Don’t miss our previous blog post featuring our interview with Saddle Mountain USD #90 Food Service Director Tim Ely.

Dr. Mark Joraanstad is a veteran educator and administrator. After spending eighteen years in a classroom, Mark made the transition to administration, and he is currently in his eighth year at Saddle Mountain Unified. With over 42 years of experience behind him, Mark doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

“I guess I don’t know when to stop!” laughed Joraanstad, from his office in Arizona. “I still look forward to going to work every day, and trying to change the lives of students and families. As long as I’m able, I want to continue. I work with a great staff. In a smaller district like [Saddle Mountain] you can really see and feel the results of your work. I know the kids, the families, I can walk around and know every teacher and bus driver—that connection makes it great.”

The first question we had for Mark was how he got interested in breakfast-in-the-classroom in the first place, and what made him feel it was the right fit for Saddle Mountain? His response was that experience showed him, quite simply, that breakfast-in-the-classroom works for students.

“I ran into one of my very innovative principals a couple of years ago, and he mentioned breakfast-in-the-classroom to me, and how well it was working,” recalled Dr. Joraanstad. “It stuck in the back of my mind as something I really wanted to try. This was a guy I knew as a very effective principal. Then about a year ago I got an email about a grant to implement [BIC], and at the same time I had a very energetic new principal at one of my schools who I knew had done the program in her previous district and really liked it. I knew she would be interested, and that she had the drive and energy to get her people behind her.”

Mark said he was counting on this new principal’s “energetic leadership style” to persuade other stakeholders at Tartesso Elementary to implement breakfast-in-the-classroom, but he didn’t think that would be a problem. He knew that if Liz Burton was leading the charge, people would listen—and follow.

“If she’s ‘for’ something she will plunge ahead, and she can get things accomplished even when folks are initially hesitant,” said Mark. “I wanted to explore [BIC] because I thought we were wasting time in the morning, and even though we were already serving universal breakfast district-wide, a lot of kids weren’t taking advantage of that. I knew—we all knew—that not every kid was coming to school having eaten breakfast, and I saw a lost opportunity there. I thought, ‘If we don’t do it, who will?’

Although there was some hesitation among stakeholders who feared a large, systemic change like breakfast-in-the-classroom, the program soon revealed its value to everyone involved, said Mark.

“We had some selling to do, particularly with teachers but there wasn’t any kind of active resistance,” he recalled. “But I’ve got this dynamo of a principal, and when she’s on board with something she has a contagious energy. She never asks anyone to do something she won’t do herself. [Liz’s] ability to say, ‘I did this already in another school and it works.’ That assuaged some of the concerns.”

As for parents, Joraanstad says he usually measures the success (or lack thereof) of a program by the number of phone calls he gets but in this case he said the phone didn’t ring at all—not once.

“It’s very rare that we implement such a big change that I don’t get at least a few calls in my office, but I haven’t had any—and I mean zero! Not one parent has called to say they don’t like it, which tells me that it’s very successful indeed.”

After implementation, Dr. Joraanstad feels that the BIC program has proven its value through both its immediate and ongoing impact on students throughout the school day.

“We often have that time at the beginning of the day when teachers are doing those ‘critical management tasks’ that are about getting the day set up, like attendance. So now, look at what the kids are doing while [that’s happening]. Kids eat while teachers take attendance, give the kids who were absent the day before the information they need to catch up, and taking care of these basic tasks. The kids are getting settled down, getting some energy from the food they are eating, and then everyone is ready to go. No one is wired up from whatever may have happened on the playground; breakfast-in-the-classroom is an efficient time-management tool.”

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