Mark Ward 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Award winners demonstrate their creativity, passion and tips for professional success. Meet Kathie Sardeson Kathie Sardeson, winner of this year’s national SNA Heart of the Program Award, is not easily discouraged. At Lassen View Elementary School in Redding, Calif., “I might serve something 15 or 20 times before the kids will even try it,” she explains. “They have to ‘know’ a new food before they taste it.” For that reason, Sardeson continues, “I just keep putting out a new item and, eventually, you hear them say, ‘I like it. Can I have some more?’ Serving a new item until it becomes familiar,” she concludes, “is what I call giving kids a chance to make good choices.” Persistence Pays OffHer patience and tenacity have enabled Sardeson to turn such items as kale chips and fruit pizza into student favorites. Her popular “Fear Factor Smoothie” is a breakfast blend of fruit, yogurt and leafy green vegetables. Lassen View’s salad bar regularly features such unique mixes as spinach leaves, romaine lettuce, mandarin oranges and olives. And a “Harvest of the Month” promotion prompts students to taste-test seasonal items. “Through her creativity and encouragement, Kathie helps many students discover and like new foods,” affirms Enterprise School District Nutrition Director Denise Ohm, SNS. Although the district enrolls fewer than 4,000 students in its seven schools, Sardeson reports that she and Ohm are determined to “avoid the mindset that ‘we’re only a small district’ and limited in what we can do.” To overcome such an attitude of complacency, her advice is to “be proactive about networking.” For example, at a recent conference, she discovered a local produce source after meeting a representative for area growers. And through other contacts, she learned how to secure a Healthy Students Initiative (HSI) grant to help pay for new equipment for scratch cooking. Networking, however, did not always come easily for Sardeson. She credits Ohm with helping to bring out her best. “Denise is more outgoing, while I’m more shy,” she confesses. “And she’s a great listener.” With that kind of reinforcement, Sardeson has gained the confidence to stretch herself. “Kathie is active in our district’s Health Council and our local SNA chapter, and she’s earned her SNA Level 1 certification,” Ohm details. Sardeson and Ohm work well together “because we’ve had similar lives and experienced some of the same trials, which have drawn us together,” asserts Sardeson. Indeed, the caring atmosphere that is a hallmark of the school meals operation was never more important to Sardeson than during a period of great loss and grief. Her school nutrition story, however, begins much earlier. A Full Heart “I moved to Redding after I married and started a family,” Sardeson recounts. “But when I became single again, I went back to work. Since I had some experience in foodservice, my mother—who was a cook at one of our schools— suggested I get on the list to be a substitute cafeteria worker. In 1998, after a year of being a sub, I was hired full-time at Lassen View Elementary School.” In her work, Sardeson also crossed paths with the head custodian. “He hired me when I needed a summer job, and we got to know each other,” she details. The pair married in 2003, but only three short years later, her husband died unexpectedly. Despite her grievous loss, with the support of her boss, coworkers, staffand student customers, Sardeson has flourished. “I love my job and my kids,” she exclaims. So many of her students “just want somebody to love them and give them a hug.” In recent years, Sardeson’s career has taken off, matching her passion for this lifelong learning profession. She has used personal time to attend a Healthy Cuisine for Kids course, where she learned 15 new recipes for school meals. In 2009, she attended her first SNA Annual National Conference, an experience she calls “awesome.” Now, as the national recipient of the 2012 Heart of the Program Award, she maintains that she is “flabbergasted” by this testament to her passionate persistence. Meet Sherri Knutson When Sherri Knutson, SNS, is asked for advice to give those just building careers in school nutrition, the 2012 SNA Outstanding Director of the Year ticks offfive secrets to success: Work hard; step out of your comfort zone; don’t be afraid to meet new people; surround yourself with others who can help you; and make that phone call to get involved in your professional association. Over a career spanning 22 years, during which Knutson has directed school nutrition for three Minnesota districts, she is a model of practicing what she preaches. As coordinator of student nutrition services for Rochester (Minn.) Public Schools since 2000, Knutson has parlayed her approach into an impressive record of accomplishments. These include a financially robust program; completely remodeled school kitchens and cafeterias; an innovative stafftraining program; a successful breakfast- in-the-classroom pilot; afterschool and summer feeding programs; contracts to serve nearby charter schools; a catering operation; and a dietetic internship program with Rochester’s famed Mayo Clinic. Plus, there are her own professional involvements, ranging from her current service on SNA’s Nutrition Committee to her term as 2006-07 Minnesota School Nutrition Association President. Finding a Fit Surprisingly, school nutrition is Knutson’s third career. After first working overseas as an English language teacher and then back in the States pursuing a career in hospital dietetics, she found her niche in an educational setting. “That makes sense,” she relates, “because I come from a family of teachers.” Knutson went to college with the intention of following in their footsteps as a classroom teacher. “But I switched my major to home economics, because my interests lie more in nutrition education,” she reports. Looking back, she credits a fascination with cooking to her grandmother’s tutelage during summers spent on the family dairy farm in Minnesota. But after college graduation, a two-month visit with friends in Sweden stretched into six years of teaching English as a second language. “The experience challenged me to look at things I’d always taken for granted—my values, my traditions—and really reflect on them,” she states. “I think that outlook has served me well in my school nutrition career through my willingness to reexamine ‘the way things are done’ and consider alternative solutions.” After returning to Minnesota, Knutson married and found work in the dietetics department of a local hospital. In 1990, six years later and now raising a young family, she responded to a newspaper ad for a job as nutrition director for a small school district in Waseca. “I soon was captivated by the job, “ she recalls. “I loved being a difference maker for the kids. And I loved the diversity: everything from nutrition and kitchen design to finances, purchasing and planning.” Building a Program Admitting, however, that “I knew nothing about school nutrition,” Knutson sought advice from the school nutrition director in nearby Owatonna. Her newfound friend encouraged her to join SNA. In time, Knutson surrounded herself with other helpful mentors, and eight years later, her Owatonna friend moved on and Knutson became her replacement. In 2000, Knutson was ready for the challenge of directing a larger program and moved to her current position in Rochester. Inheriting a barely-breaking-even program, she eventually generated surpluses by containing food costs through line-item bidding and boosting participation rates through aggressive promotions. Kitchens and cafeterias dating from the 1960s got “extreme makeovers.” She improved menus in nutrition, quality and variety, pushing participation still higher. And resources flowed back into staff expansion and development, from the hiring of a wellness coordinator to arranging for classes for new staffto achieve SNA Level 1 certification within a year of employment. Through it all, Knutson has modeled her own advice by working hard, stretching outside her comfort zone, networking across the profession and taking the initiative. “If you can do those things,” she exclaims, “this can be a great career!” Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas. Kathie Sardeson Current Title: Cafeteria Manager City, State: Redding, Calif. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Working with wild animals Top of Your Bucket List: Go parachuting Place You’d Like to Visit: Israel Dream Dinner Guest: Mother Teresa Favorite Subject in School: Biology Sherri Knutson, SNS Current Title: Student Nutrition Services Coordinator City, State: Rochester, Minn. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Attorney Bedside Book/ Magazine: Free for All by Janet Poppendieck Top of Your Bucket List: Finish Master’s degree Place You’d Like to Visit: Sweden Hobbies: Reading, gardening, cooking
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