Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom Chat: Tim Foster, Principal, Cochran Elementary, Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky

This is Part One of a two-part series about breakfast-in-the-classroom at Cochran Elementary in Jefferson County Public Schools. Today we meet Tim Foster, Cochran’s principal and a breakfast-in-the-classroom champion who believes that BIC is an important tool that helps address behavior and academic issues to build a stronger student body.

When we sat down to talk about breakfast-in-the-classroom with Cochran Elementary School principal Tim Foster, we wanted to learn about the impact the program has had since it was first implemented through a Partners for BIC grant three years ago. According to Foster, not only has BIC helped him create a stronger school from an academic perspective, the program has also helped tame discipline problems, as well as create a family atmosphere among students and staff.

“When I arrived, Cochran Elementary was ranked 732 out of 733 schools—that in itself was mind-boggling,” recalled Foster. “Our goal the first year was to get out of the bottom ten, and we did—we moved up to twelfth-from-last in the state. That’s when breakfast-in-the-classroom came into play. With the latest rankings we have moved up 400 spots in five years. I’ll say it again—400 spots in five years! There are so many things I could list that we’ve done [to achieve that], and a big one is breakfast-in-the-classroom. I am a huge proponent of the program.”

Foster knows a little something about academic achievement, having started his career as an AP U.S. Government & Politics and AP U.S. History teacher at Dupont Manual High School, one of the top high schools in the state of Kentucky. With high national rankings and classes chock-full of National Merit semi-finalists (”I think I had twelve National Merit [students] out of 31 kids in one classroom at one time.”) Foster loved his classes, but began to think about other students and other opportunities to make a difference.

“Many of the kids I taught went on to Harvard, Yale, Rice, and Tulane,” said Foster. “In teaching government there were many recurring themes, including poverty; we talked about the differences in cultures, we talked about discrimination. Eventually I began to feel like administration was my next step and I became an assistant principal at Liberty High School, an alternative school in Jefferson County Public Schools.”

Working in a dropout-prevention high school was “eye-opening” says Foster, and he spent the next three years at Liberty learning the administrative ropes.

“It was a huge change of pace for me—a rollercoaster ride,” recalled Foster. “Not only was I moving from the classroom to an administrative role, I was going from teaching National Merit [scholars] to eighteen-year-olds reading at a second grade level. It’s an [issue] that just has to be addressed. After three years I decided I wanted to move to elementary, and after my fourth year as assistant principal [at Liberty] I landed my job at Cochran.”

The first things Foster noticed when he arrived at Cochran were chaos and disciplinary issues stemming from the logistics of the morning drop-off procedure.

“Kids got off the bus and were kind of herded into the cafeteria, and then from there into the gym; they felt like holding areas,” said Foster. “Implementing breakfast-in-the-classroom allowed me to create morning programs. As soon as children got off the bus we were able to have them go immediately to what we call ‘Meaning in the Morning’—I wanted meaning in the mornings, as opposed to 45 minutes of nothing. So instead of being herded to the cafeteria where issues arise and chaos is the norm during 30-45 minutes of nothing but eating breakfast, we created [enrichment] programs. After the first year we completely shut down the cafeteria in the morning because we simply didn’t need it.”

At Cochran, morning enrichment comes in the form of computer and iPad labs, where students can immediately go and begin the school day in a quiet, learning-rich environment. Engaging students in the morning with lessons, such as Reflex Math or reading, is a calmer, more constructive way to start the day; when paired with breakfast, Foster says it’s an unbeatable combination.

“You can’t just plop kids down in a gym or cafeteria, they need to be engaged,” said Foster. “Last year we started opening early at 8 a.m. so now I am getting an extra hour of lessons in the morning. Breakfast-in-the-classroom allows us to feed our children, and every child gets to eat—to have every child eating breakfast is such a gift. It’s just a gift, and it means every child has the opportunity to learn.”

Stay tuned for Part Two of our interview with Tim Foster, Cochran Elementary principal and breakfast-in-the-classroom champion. In Part Two we will learn tips for stakeholder engagement, and take a detailed look at Mr. Foster’s morning breakfast-and-enrichment routine that has helped take Cochran from the first percentile in the state—732 out of 733 schools—to the 53rd percentile in just four years. 

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