Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom Chat: Liz Burton, Principal, Tartesso Elementary, Saddle Mountain USD #90, Arizona

When it comes to the success of a breakfast-in-the-classroom program a supportive principal is crucial. Managers and directors tell us time and again, ‘I would love to do breakfast-in-the-classroom, but first you have to help me convince my principal!’ When the principal is on board, they can act as a champion to rally other stakeholders to her side. Such is the case with Liz Burton, principal at Tartesso Elementary in Saddle Mountain Unified School District #90 in Arizona.

Burton says that when the opportunity to bring breakfast-in-the-classroom to Tartesso through a Partners for BIC grant presented itself she was very excited. Having first experienced the program as a teacher in the neighboring Glendale district she already knew how great it was, but readily confesses that her own initial reaction wasn’t quite so positive.

“When they brought breakfast-in-the-classroom to us in Glendale I was absolutely dreading it,” recalled Burton. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this, it’s going to be so messy’—just like my teachers thought when I first told them—but I ended up loving breakfast-in-the-classroom. I had extra time in my morning to build my relationships with my students, and of course there were definitely more kids eating, which is the point.”

Burton has spent more than half of her fifteen years in education as a teacher, starting as a substitute in Cedar Falls, Iowa, after graduating from college, and then taking a full-time position in Arizona. Even after finishing her master’s degree in 2008, Burton stuck with teaching because she loved it so much, finally making the switch to administration five years ago. When it was time to convince stakeholders at Tartesso that BIC was right for them, Burton drew on her own previous experience to persuade them.

“That experience was helpful,” said Burton. “If you go in and present this initiative there can be resentment, [people] can be standoffish. Not only did I share that I had already done the program, I asked other teachers to speak up about any experience they had with BIC in other districts. When they spoke up I could sort of ‘piggyback’ off of them while we shared ideas.”

With strong support from Saddle Mountain superintendent Mark Joraanstad and foodservice director Tim Ely, implementation was a foregone conclusion. That left it up to Burton to create a supportive environment where BIC could take root. The key to that is communication—starting early, and continuing often throughout the planning and implementation process, and beyond.

“We had a meeting before school was out to give people a head’s up about the program,” said Burton. “We had another meeting at the beginning of the school year before the students came back. Timothy Ely brought in all of the materials and showed us what BIC would look like. We had a question-and-answer session where we addressed concerns, and I definitely continued to revisit the program in my monthly staff meetings to continue to address challenges and provide support.”

Keeping those communications open and the information flowing meant fast and efficient responses to any issues that might pop up. At Tartesso, Burton says they were able to tweak things like the process for taking the morning count accurately, and providing extra cleaning supplies for the classrooms, as the result of consistent communication between all stakeholders. It’s a habit she intends to maintain.

“I listen to their concerns, and we address their issues, work through their problems,” said Burton. “The most recent concern at our end-of-year meeting was about the breakfast [menu] options. They asked about different choices the kids might like better, so that’s something I’ll talk to my cafeteria director about later this summer to see what our options are. When we talk about problems, we can work through things and find solutions everyone likes.”

Ultimately Burton believes that in spite of any challenges faced along the way, her staff sees the positive effects breakfast has on students in the classroom has for students. That, she says, is a strong argument in favor of the program in and of itself.

“It’s an outstanding way to encourage students to eat the most important meal of the day, which gets their brains working and ready to learn.”

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