The surprise trip to Mangia Italian Grill and Sports Cafe in Woodstock for breakfast was Marriotts Ridge Principal Patrick J. Saunderson's idea. He kept mum about it even as his new staff members boarded rented buses to chauffeur them there on a recent morning.

"Okay, decide if you want the big muffin or the sausage McGriddle," he teased as they pulled out of the parking lot of the county's newest high school.

What really awaited the teachers was a buffet of waffles, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and hash browns -- a solid start to get them through their first official day at work.

Saunderson worked the room, patting backs and shaking hands as his staff chowed down. The breakfast was an opportunity for his new staff members to get to know each other before school started. Saunderson had met many of the teachers only once or twice.

"I know there's a million things you want to do in the building," he told the teachers in the middle of breakfast. "That's why we hijacked you over here."

The breakfast was a welcome break for Saunderson as well. He had been at the school until about 11 the night before for a meeting with the school's newly formed PTA. He said he slept like a rock until nearly 7 a.m., when his wife turned to him and said, "Aren't you supposed to be gone already?" He was out the door 15 minutes later.

It seems that Saunderson has been operating under a time crunch since March, when he was assigned to take over as principal of the county's 12th high school after Linda Wise, who was originally appointed to be principal, became an assistant superintendent instead. There were teachers to hire, parents to meet, construction to oversee and a new curriculum to learn.

Saunderson has spent the past three years as principal at Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton. He started his career as a teacher and coach at Columbia's Atholton High School, his alma mater, eventually becoming the school's athletic director in 1991. He was also assistant principal at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia for a year. His wife, who graduated from Wilde Lake, used to teach at Mount View Middle School, across the street from Marriotts Ridge. She is now is at Glenwood Middle.

"We definitely are ingrained," he said.

Marriotts Ridge is quickly becoming part of that picture. Saunderson related tidbits of information about his new staff members as he ate breakfast at Mangia -- this one went to high school with school board Chairman Courtney Watson, that one is battling cancer, another has been teaching 35 years. But soon he was searching for a watch. He had lingered too long.

"You eat very quickly, and you keep moving," he said, rising from his seat, his breakfast only half-eaten.

Principal Patrick J. Saunderson, left, talks with assistant principals Lisa Veslany and James LeMon during breakfast. "I know there's a million things you want to do in the building. That's why we hijacked you over here," Saunderson, right, told his staff members.