Mark Ward 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Two school administrators make respectful collaboration a formula for success. Meet Paula Montgomery Schools are incubators for those “light bulb moments” when a student “gets it” and a new world of possibilities opens. School nutrition professionals also can experience such life-changing moments when, as Paula Montgomery found, a sudden flash of insight turns a mere job into a passion— which, in turn, ignites a desire to help others see the light. “My light bulb switched on the very first day I started full-time,” recalls Montgomery, child nutrition services supervisor for Fairborn (Ohio) City Schools. Back in 1988, after two years as a substitute school nutrition employee in another Ohio district, she was hired to direct its small, rural program. “Until then, school nutrition was just a nice job. But when I became a director, the possibilities for making it a career hit me right away.” Two years later, Montgomery went on to direct another small program and then, in 1993, was named to her position at the larger Fairborn district. Spreading the Message Today she is known both for her own passion and for helping others—administrators, teachers, students, parents, the community—to grasp the possibilities for advancing education through good nutrition. “Paula has the ability to see the big picture, not just her own area,” reports Ed Gibbons (see next page), Fairborn director of business affairs and Montgomery’s boss. “She can relate to me and to others how we all need to get behind our school nutrition program and how we can benefit.” Of her journey through this profession, Montgomery accedes that it has deep roots. “In my own student days, I was a cafeteria volunteer and enjoyed the atmosphere and the chance to talk with all the kids,” she recollects. “I loved kids—period—and my ambition after graduation was to be a stay-at-home mom.” She pursued that dream, but as her six children grew, she found herself ready to work outside the home. It was then that she recalled her early love of school cafeterias and in 1986 became a substitute worker in her children’s district. Relationship Builder Upon being hired to direct her current program, the move to Fairborn City meant a tenfold increase in enrollment, from 600 to more than 6,000 students—and, she recalls, “Scariest of all, was going to work in an office with a secretary.” The larger district pushed Montgomery to make it a priority to cultivate positive working relationships with allies throughout the entire school community. As she puts it today, “School lunch wouldn’t rock, if we didn’t roll!” By that, she means “rolling” with the individuality of every constituent of the school meals program. “Get to know not only people’s names, but their personalities, gifts and talents. Then talk to that teacher in the hallway. Respond to that principal’s question. Encourage your managers to tell you their achievements— and then pass those along to the administration,” counsels Montgomery. “And if an irate parent calls, don’t think yourself put upon. Respond with respect. To them, their concern is important enough to make the call. In fact, you can respect that they called you directly.” Her attitude of valuing the opinions and concerns of anyone interested enough to express their thoughts has created what Montgomery calls a “trickle-down effect” in fostering new allies and support for school nutrition. Winner of a 2004 Foodservice Achievement Management Excellence (FAME) Award, she always works to “lead by example, so people see that I not only take their concerns seriously, but I take them seriously as individuals who are making their own contributions to our shared goal of better education.” In turn, they recognize her commitment to children’s health and achievement. Another aspect of Montgomery’s leadership-by-example approach is anticipating how changes in school nutrition—such as the new nutrition standards—will impact not only the school nutrition program, but other departments, as well. She and her team “cultivate a reputation of being subject experts and a resource for others,” she reports. “And that means when challenges arise, we don’t just address our own program needs....we devise win-win solutions with the big picture in mind.” Current Title: Child Nutrition Services Supervisor City, State: Fairborn, Ohio Favorite School Food as a Kid: Chili soup and peanut butter sandwich Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Nurse Bedside Book/Magazine: Anne of Green Gables Someone you admire: Billy Graham Top of Your Bucket List: Take cruise with the kids and grandkids Meet Ed Gibbons In his 40-year career with Fairborn (Ohio) City Schools, Ed Gibbons has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He has interacted with his district’s school nutrition program at each level and today, in his current role as director of business affairs, has oversight responsibility for the operation. “So I’ve looked at school nutrition from every angle,” he reports, “including that of being an SNA member.” As it happened, Gibbons moved into administration as a middle school assistant principal at about the same time Paula Montgomery (see previous page) was hired to direct school nutrition services. While the two have worked together and been allies for 20 years, he still vividly remembers how they first became acquainted. “In the 19 years I spent as a 5th-grade teacher, I didn’t always make a connection between education and nutrition,” Gibbons admits. “But when I was an assistant principal and then a principal, I thought that eating lunch in the cafeteria would be a good way to interact with my students. And since we had a special needs class that sat together, I often ate with them. Paula had a special concern for these students, too, and I got to know her when she would check on them.” Making the Connection Over his decade of service in the middle school, Gibbons had many occasions to be grateful for his relationship with Montgomery. “There was the time I needed new cafeteria tables, but had no money,” he relates, “and Paula helped me from her own program funds. Or the time she helped me figure out a solution for our vending machines, so that they complemented our cafeteria service rather than worked at cross purposes.” When, through volunteering as a cafeteria “guest server,” Gibbons observed firsthand the difficulties of running two lunch periods that each served 450 middle school students and the small amount of time students had to eat, Montgomery helped him work out a viable schedule with three lunch periods. “Almost immediately we saw a decrease in disciplinary problems,” he reports. While a middle school principal, Gibbons gained new appreciation for Montgomery’s expertise when the two served together on the district’s wellness committee. “And she got me involved in SNA of Ohio,” he adds, by inviting him to the state affiliate’s annual Legislative Breakfast. “I was impressed not only by how much I learned about nutrition and legislative issues that were important to my school, but by the quality and dedication of all the school nutrition professionals that I met.” Since his 2002 appointment as business affairs director, Gibbons has gotten to see another side of Montgomery’s efforts for school nutrition. In this position, Gibbons oversees the district’s nutrition, transportation, custodial, maintenance and technology departments, as well as human resources for unclassified employees. “Paula empathizes with my role, as well as the roles of all the other department supervisors,” he notes, adding, “At our monthly Administrators Council meetings, she always asks— or shares ideas about—how she can support others.” Same Page, Same Purpose Now that Gibbons directs his district’s business affairs, he appreciates the efforts that go into running a financially sound and effective school nutrition operation. “I often suggest that other departments look at how Paula does things—from containing costs to staff training—to get ideas for their own operations,” he relates. “I may be her boss, but in many ways, she’s my mentor.” Over the years, Gibbons and Montgomery have forged a vibrant two-way relationship. “For my part, I’m a cheerleader for Paula,” says Gibbons, “and if needed, I can be an intervener on her behalf. I tip her off on things that can help her and keep her informed of potential landmines.” And whenever it’s time for this lifelong educator to go public, Gibbons says, “I’m always going to be an advocate for school nutrition and its importance for education.” Current Title: Director of Business Affairs City, State: Fairborn, Ohio Favorite School Food as a Kid: Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Veterinarian Bedside Book/Magazine: Smart Money magazine Someone You Admire: First responders and military personnel Dream Dinner Guest: Steve Jobs
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