One magazine. Ten school nutrition leaders with more than 200 years combined experience. Boundless innovation, dedication and achievement. School Nutrition brings it all together in its 8th annual Roundtable of Leaders. IT’S A CHALLENGING TIME TO BE CHARGED WITH FEEDING SCHOOL KIDS TODAY. The government has updated nutrition standards for school meals for the first time in more than a decade, mandating complicated changes and a speedy implementation schedule. The media spotlight on the role of school cafeterias to address the childhood obesity problem continues to glare unrelentingly. Budgets are tight and getting tighter for school districts—and for the families they serve, raising free/reduced-price-eligibility rates and driving increased need for schools to bridge a hunger gap. How are today’s school nutrition directors rising to meet one challenge after another—and why do they do it? It’s certainly not for high salaries and consistently positive press. School Nutrition gathered a group of ten district directors hailing from large and small districts across the country for its 8th annual Roundtable of Leaders to find out. Following is an excerpt of our wide-ranging conversation. Be sure to check out SN’s Bonus Web Content page (www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus content) for an overview of each participant’s background in this profession and details about their district operations. SN: Given that there’s not a lot of “glory” in school nutrition, in terms of persistent negative publicity, and not a lot of pay, what hooked you and what keeps you in this segment, despite all the challenges? Robert Lewis: We have a very collaborative atmosphere. There’s a real culture of wellness in El Monte at the city level. The city wellness team sits on our [district’s] coordinated wellness team, and we sit on theirs. We try to write our wellness policies to correspond to one another’s. Seeing that my background is in public policy, I see this as an opportunity for collaborative public policy around the issue of our time, which is childhood obesity and childhood diabetes. It’s wonderful to work in an atmosphere that’s so collaborative. … Everyone is working together to do what’s right for kids. That’s what keeps me drawn to it. Debbi Beauvais: I have to say it’s the work environment. I’m very blessed in my district that probably about 85% of my staff are parents in my district, and if they’re not parents now, they’re grandparents or aunts or uncles. The changes that I would recommend, they bought into, because they look at the kids as their own kids. I’ve had [staff] who’ve left and then come back… we just retired a woman who was 91 years old! Lori Adkins: I think that what’s significant now is that we have made so much headway in the past five years, and we’re now being taken seriously. We have so many initiatives, [like] HUSSC and Fuel Up to Play 60, and we’re getting a lot of press and we’re getting a lot of recognition for being leaders. I’m not leaving, because my work is not done. It’s been one of the most challenging years in my 25-year career, but I can’t walk away from it now. The rubber’s hit the road; let’s go. Sherri Knutson: I think one thing that hooks most of us around this table is the cadre of different roles we play within this profession. One day, we’re challenged by the pink slime situation, the next day we’re looking into a financial situation, the following day we’re looking at a training issue or a production issue with menus. We really never have to play one role or one function. There’s just this wide scope and this wide variety that challenges all of our inner strengths, and I think that’s what keeps us going. Doug Davis: I think for me, no matter what’s going on, there are thousands of kids who aren’t going to eat if we don’t feed them. I can look at my watch and think, ‘I can go have lunch with a bunch of eightyear- olds,’ and it just changes the perspective [away from] so-called crises and problems. … So, for me, when those things kind of pile on and pile on, you just move away from your desk and go sit with a bunch of eight-year-olds and just talk about it. … As long as [I] don’t lose sight of the fact that [my] customers are children and don’t take [myself] too seriously and really just spend time with the customers, it really makes me look at my job in a different way. Joan Shorter: It’s not just about talking to the kids; it’s also about talking to my staff; I think that’s part of what motivates me. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, [an earthquake, a hurricane] or a lockdown, the staffis there, and they are making sure these kids are fed. The politics, the infighting, it’s so beyond that. I go in the kitchen and get behind the line and start working with them. I’m so motivated by that. … I always sing praises to my staff, because no matter what, they’re always going to be there. There’s a passion within them because they love these students, and no one can take that away from them. And that motivates me more than anything. Sonja Anthony: I’ve gone out into the schools, and it gives me an opportunity to develop a rapport with the line staff[so] they understand I don’t walk on a cloud or hang the moon. When there’s something wrong out there, they’re comfortable enough to call me and say, “That idea you had last time? It didn’t fly.” I’m not offended, because they’re out there trying to implement it. And when you talk with the children…if something’s doable, [we try] to make sure it’s done, because then they realize that someone’s listening and that someone cares. Also, when we had [tornado damage], there was not a district near us that did not call us and ask what we needed…. Susan Maffe: I would have to say it’s the employees, as well. They are incredibly dedicated. When I started, the previous director had been asked to leave. I started my first school job two days before school started. My mindset was to find out what they’re doing, I can’t just change things [without learning]. My staff[brought me] flowers and balloons. They had never met me, but I was welcomed. They would do anything. Deborah Taylor: Every time you think about moving to a new district, you think about picking up your ladies, and a few dudes, and taking them with you, then that would be great. You develop your trust in them. I think that’s one of the things we get to do well in schools: to have a servant leadership type of management style. Donna Martin: There’s a variety of things to do. It uses every skill you learned in college. You work with computers and wellness and bidding and nutrition education. I can’t think of any other job where you get to do all those kind of things. You get to be innovative and try new things and you’re somewhat autonomous compared to a lot of other jobs. I can be as creative as I want, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You constantly get to problem solve. You get to use those creative juices all the time. No day is ever, ever the same. Maffe: It’s never boring. The entire group laughs in agreement. Martin: There’s a real sense of accomplishment that the kids are out there and that they’re counting on you. Knutson: The profession fosters a sense of camaraderie, and not just within your own district. When I first started in school foodservice, I…started looking through some documents and writing down a number of questions. I thought, Oh, my gosh, who’s going to help me? I picked up the phone and [called the neighboring district director for help], and she said, “Sure, come on over.” We’re in it together, so we all try to figure it out together. Martin: If I look good, you look good. If I look bad, you look bad. We are the most sharing profession. Beauvais: I always say that you can’t steal each other’s customers, but you can steal each other’s ideas. Martin: No one wants to reinvent the wheel. Everyone always takes their hard work and just sends it to you. SN: We can’t have a roundtable and not talk about the new meal pattern. How do each of you view the new regulation? Are you ready for the challenge? Scared? Anxious? What’s your approach for yourself and your team? What will be the most challenging, and what are you less worried about? Knutson: We’ve been trying to interpret the new meal pattern regulations [with an eye toward being consistent]. It’s a little bit challenging [trying to understand everything, because] you may attend one training but you hear something else at another one, and you had thought you had it down. I think we’ve been working with this for a number of years, so maybe the actual implementation will go a little bit easier than we think. The whole training component is on our mind as directors. I know that I understand it, but how can I parlay it to the staffso that they’re going to get it at the front-line level of the operation to be looking at the trays and to be sure we’re in compliance? Our state has done a great job of trying to reach all facets of operations. I think they’re trying to say, “Here’s our best interpretation of these regs” and “Here’s what we’re going to answer to.” In that same respect, I think they’re also saying, “Calm down, don’t worry; we’re all in this together. … We’ll be there as a resource. You can do this.” Martin: We’re a HUSSC Gold level. And this is our second re-certification, so we’ve been doing this for a long time. I think for most of us, the new changes with the grains and the meats are very, very difficult. I’m most concerned about our teachers, who will be very unhappy and not supportive. I also have a lot of really hungry children in my county. I’m concerned about them eating enough and going home. It’s great to put all the fruits and vegetables out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to take them and eat them. I’m concerned about satiety. Also, a lot of us are having to go up on our prices. In my district, we’re having to [raise] adult prices [and give] them less food. I think there will be a lot of backlash. I’m most worried about my kids and my teachers, who are going to be raising Cain. I’m going to write a memo to them, because I’m scared to go to a faculty meeting and get shot. I’m worried about being able to weather the frustration. Lewis: We’re pretty much there with the fruits and vegetables. We’re already at Year Four with sodium at lunch and Year Two with sodium at breakfast, so that won’t be a problem. The problem that I see is that I have been doing [California’s Shape nutrient-based menu-planning program]. For 17 years, I did food-based, then I came to El Monte and it took me three and a half years to learn nutrientbased; so I feel like we’re going back in a time machine. The way that we won these awards was through nutrient-based menu planning. All the nutrients were there. Now my concern is with calories. Anthony: Our interpretation [of the new regulation] is all over the stratosphere and so is [that] of vendors. When are the vendors going to get out [of the K-12 segment] and go to retail? It’s costing them [a ton of] money to meet our needs. I’m worried that we’ll have a virtual oasis and no one to meet our needs. Martin: Vendors today [in the Exhibit Hall] told me that it costs them so much to reformulate products every couple of years. They have to [spend] that before they even sell any products. Adkins: I think those vendors with a vested interest are here to stay and want to make a difference and an impact. But I hear what you’re saying. It is frustrating for them because the rules [are] constantly changing. I think this year, things will settle down. [And,] with 30 million meals a day [served in K-12 operations], if I were a vendor, I’d want to be on that playing field. But one of the challenges we’re going to face is [the fact] that this really is going to be a paradigm shift for our employees. We talked earlier about the tenure of a lot of these employees. They have served and been trained in a meal pattern that’s been used for a number of years. Now all of a sudden, there are going to be limits in what can be served. Fruits and vegetables will now have to be portioned out. Condiments will have to be counted out. Training will be very essential in getting [employees] on board and making sure that compliance starts at point of sale. Shorter: Part of my concern is the grains, and also the calories. But my other concern is waste, because there are some students who want to grab a hamburger and a milk, because maybe that’s all they have time for. You could take an apple and probably put it in your pocket. But if you [have to take] cupped fruit, it’s just going to go in the trash. It seems like we’re going to be wasting a lot of money. It’s going to be costing us more. Our staffis so compassionate—they say, “Johnny doesn’t want it”—and they tend not to push students, because they’ve never had to do it before. That’s my concern. What message are we teaching our children, if we’re looking at obesity and we start mandating that they have to take something? I need parents’ help in educating the students and teachers. I’m not scared, but I’m anxious to see how it’s all going to play out. Taylor: We still don’t know what we really have to do. … This should not be rocket science, but they’re turning it into rocket science. Having K-5 all be the same—there is so much difference between how much a little kindergartener and a 5th-grader eat! … [With] older kids, I was always able to give more whole grains to get their calories up, without adding fat. How are we going to get the calories? I’m not really sure. Knutson: I think this is somewhat easier than we think. … I think you have to go through your menu for the different ages and decipher what [the biggest challenge] is going to be and have that communication piece. I think what Joan said is very important about the parent. Our customers are our students, but the parents are a very big piece of this challenge, so in being proactive in the changes that are forthcoming, we can take advantage of back-toschool events. … One of the things we’ve talked about in training is that we wanted to be cognizant about approaching our students and staffmembers in a very positive manner and say, “Did you forget your fruit today?” rather than “You have to take it.” So, I think you have to have that whole communication content piece with you and say, “This is how we’re going to approach it.” This is a positive thing. We can’t turn it into something negative. Lewis: I’m going to have faith that all of the nutrition education we do in our district is going to help us meet these regulations. We have the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in 12 of our 14 schools. ... I have two chefs in the classroom that work full-time, so they hit every classroom throughout the school year and do lessons with them. We have wellness champion teachers in each school. Every day, students are getting some type of a wellness message. I’m just going to have faith. Taylor: It’s more the fear factor of [not knowing] what is going to happen. … There is so much fear behind it, [making us feel] that if everything isn’t perfect, one day [I will be] written up in the newspaper. It’s the fear factor of hearing, “These are the new regs, this is what you must do, but we’re not really ready yet to tell you how to do it.” I have a wonderful state department, but if I’m feeling this, then the others [in my state] are overwhelmed, too, because we’re not really sure what they want. That’s the problem. SN: School nutrition offers many different challenges. What are some of the things besides the new meal patterns that you are looking forward to tackling? Shorter: We’re looking at cafeteria redecorating and remodeling in one or two schools to see if it will make a difference in participation. When you walk in, it’s so institutionalized. In an elementary school, you need color. Maybe a mural. So, I’m working with our maintenance department. In a high school, we might be working with the art students to create a mural. Low-cost solutions. Everything in my county has to be “cost neutral.” I have asked [the district] to change the lighting, because I think it makes a difference. Some of our buildings are 50-60 years old! The serving lines are the ones that were there originally; they just repaint them. Adkins: A new initiative we’re doing is a shared nutrition analysis software program. We evaluated programs a couple of years ago and decided to use one that is web-based, so that we can share the database and work together on cycle menus. I’m taking a proactive approach to the new regulations. Maffe: I want to try to take advantage of more grant funding, because we’ve found there’s so much money out there, and it’s really not all that hard to take advantage [of these opportunities. So far, we’ve used grant money to conduct] taste tests at different schools to get kids more familiar with what’s going to be coming with the new regulations. Fuel Up to Play 60, Action for Healthy Kids—they were begging people in Connecticut to apply. Lewis: I would really like to strengthen our Farmer in the Classroom program. What I’ve come to notice is when students see where fruits and vegetables come from, and they get their hands dirty and ask the farmers all kind of questions—and sometimes we have field trips—there’s more acceptance of fruits and vegetables. They know where it comes from. We’re an inner-city district. We’re 10 miles from Los Angeles, so kids don’t necessarily know where their fruits and vegetables come from. Anthony: We’re doing some renovations to give a more appealing look. We’re trying to make the environment a little more hospitable and not so institutionalized. We’re doing one of our large high schools right now. Beauvais: I started the HUSSC process this year. I have four elementary schools in one district submitted, so I know the little district is going to want me to keep pace. We renovated our serving areas at the bigger district; I wish we could do the seating areas, but I don’t have the funding for that and neither does the school district. So, we have these great serving areas and then prison-style tables. But I’m kind of excited seeing some of the new equipment styles here at ANC to maybe sell to the smaller district. When I did our high school, they told me, “Design your dream kitchen,” and I did! They gave me everything, but the trade-offwas that they took the facility down to the dirt. I was cooking 1,000 lunches outside in the parking lot. In January. I’m in upstate New York; it snows. And we didn’t do just sandwiches and salads; we ended up getting a horse trailer [to use as a kitchen] and we had a grill. Knutson: One of the things we would like to do is to expand our collaboration with the curriculum in the classroom and look at that nutrition education piece. Go beyond the newsletter and the back of the menu. We want to be active as a resource. Some of us have nutrition education backgrounds and are dietitians, so we [see ourselves as] functioning more as a resource for the classroom. The cafeteria is nutrition “live,” so to take it from the cafeteria setting into the classroom to be used as a teaching resource would be a really wonderful thing. We’ll be trying to make headway and to get to the right people to say, “Yes, that’s great.” Taylor: My big goal is to improve the website. We do all these great things, but I want to actually get photos that get uploaded and written about. I want to focus on the self-marketing and [submit stories] to Traytalk (www.traytalk.org). I want to do this for our district, but I think that all of us who feed kids have a lot to teach parents about serving kids at home. Davis: We know there’s money on the table, so we brought a grant writer in for the foodservices department [to help raise funds for a “district farmer” position.] We have [local] farmers coming [to the schools], but having teachers actually incorporate nutrition education [into the classroom] is why we brought a grant writer in. Farmers bring in whatever winter vegetables are available from November through June as part of a weekly CSA drop, and the nutrition education would allow us to educate the kids on what’s in that basket every day, so they know what they’ll be seeing in the cafeteria. We’re trying to get education and nutrition tied together a bit more tightly in our district, and hopefully the grant funds will help make that happen. Martin: One of the things that I’m worried about is getting the kids to eat the vegetables on their plate. They eat the fruit, so I’m not worried about that. We’re talking about doing a vegetable challenge in [elementary] classrooms, maybe something where everyone has to eat 50 vegetables and [identifying a number of the different [varieties] they need to eat, so they don’t just eat corn and French fries. Once an entire classroom has [met the challenge], then we’ll do a yogurt party as a [reward] for them. I want them to experience trying the vegetables and not just them putting them on their plate [in the cafeteria]. We’re going to try to do more taste testing of the things that are not popular. We’re also trying to get away from all the ranch dressing and sodium and are thinking about doing a balsamic vinaigrette that we mix up. Kids [will take] the salad just to put [the dressing] on their pizza or chicken. Lewis: At our open houses, we do Vegetable Fear Factor. Our RDs line up 10 vegetables, and it’s normally the popular kids who are forced to go up to the front of the room and get some Japanese eggplant or star fruit or things they’ve never heard of. They have to down them in a certain amount of time. Everyone in the room gets to try them, and then we have a nutrition education component. Then, the item goes on the menu. SN: Let’s end with sharing one achievement that you’re really proud of, whether it’s related to your program or your career. Shorter: [When I took on this program, it was in the red.] At the time, we were moving into process management training, performance management, KPI and all of that. I reached out to [district administrators] and said, “We need to change everything.” When you’re rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go but up. We went through process management training for six months. We analyzed every process and everything that we’ve ever done and said we’re going to change everything [from payroll processing to] you name it—everything. Everything. It took us a year, but I’m most proud of the administrative staffworking together and making those changes. … And we finished in the black. That was my first year. I couldn’t do it on my own, but I had a team that really got out there. It’s been wonderful to see this. Lewis: My mom, who was from Oklahoma, passed away in 2008 from a heart attack, but a lot of her heart problems were related to type 2 diabetes. I wrote my dissertation on wellness policies, and [that experience] is kind of my motivation [for doing what I do]. When we were able to go to the White House last October [for HUSSC recognition], I got to take all my principals and my boss, my registered dietitians, a School Board member, a teacher and some classified employees. There were 28 of us at the White House— my proudest moment is getting all those people together to collaborate and win that award and be recognized. Maffe: My biggest accomplishment is that my staffand department have earned the respect and recognition of the principals. When I look at where [our operation] was eight years ago and the compliments I’ve gotten and the positive changes in our food, I feel more a part of the district. I know our stafffeels recognized and appreciated. It makes all the difference in the world. Beauvais: When our superintendent introduces me, he always adds, “We have an award-winning program because of her.” And I always say, “It’s because of the people who work with me that we have an award-winning program.” I’m state president-elect for the New York SNA; [I can do that] because of the people who are doing the work back at home. I’m really proud that they buy what I sell. They talk the talk and walk the walk, even when I’m not there. We’ve done some fabulous things in that district in the time that I’ve been there—for example, that parking lot kitchen, everything was in a trailer outside, there’s no road map for that. … The word is out around the country, if you have a major [construction] project, call Debbi. That’s kind of my legacy. It’s no different than giving birth to a child. You go through this labor, you don’t know what it’s all about, it’s horrendous, but when you finish, you have this great facility. You forget about what it took to get you there. None of us could do it alone, and we’re only as good as our staff, and that’s the bottom line. Knutson: Hopefully, I have created an atmosphere where employees feel like they’re valued and that they’re able to contribute to the program in an open and honest way. I hope they feel that we challenge them to do the right thing. As an example, with our vegetable initiative, an employee who created a recipe with jicama and apples was just so happy that we wanted to do a taste testing [with it]; now, it’s going to be on our fall cycle menu! We just need to be so approachable and to listen and to really value the contributions that our staffcan make, because they really are some creative souls. Martin: For me, it’s the ability to bring in new programs and my staffnot kill me! We did breakfast in the classroom, and I think that was the biggest, hardest thing I’ve ever done. Then, we did summer feeding, and I said, “This is it.” Then, we brought in the supper program, and I said, “This is it.” Now our latest project is going to be this machine to package [meals for breakfast in the classroom]. We win all these awards and get all this recognition, but it’s my staff—it’s not me. I find the idea, and I come home from these meetings, and they go, “OK, what is it now?” You sell it to them, and they buy into it, and then they do it. … And in the end, our kids are the winners. [Our county] has the highest child poverty rate in the whole United States. [When CBS News came to film a segment, they said], “Oh, that’s so terrible!” I said, “No, it’s not terrible! It’s great because I have the opportunity to feed these kids breakfast, lunch, afterschool snack, supper, summer feeding and teach them about good nutrition. It is not a problem; it’s a great opportunity to have.” Our kids have no idea…they are unbelievably blessed to get to have this stuff. We do jicama, star fruit and mango in our Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Dragon fruit, lychee nuts, all these things I’ve never heard of myself! I think just the ability to get all these things done and have the staffbuy into it, that’s our accomplishment. They’re the worker bees. I don’t worry about being at these meetings. I say, “I think y’all make better decisions than I do.” When problems come up, they handle them; they solve them. Adkins: I think my biggest accomplishment over the last 15 years is leading change and doing that through my staff. All of my awards and accomplishments are directly hinged to their efforts and their buying in to the ideas. To believe in them, to give them the tools, to bring them to conferences, to train them. …They’re the ones that run the ball; they’re making the plays. We’re the conductors; they’re playing the music. [On my tombstone, I’d like to see:] “Here lies Lori. She led change.” Anthony: There is no “I” in team. I rely heavily on my team in the schools. They’ve been empowered to make decisions [when I’m away], and they have the confidence in being able to do that…. That’s been a perk for me, as well. I just value them. [Another achievement has been] bridging a [longtime] gap between the administration and school nutrition so that the teachers and principals understand the importance of a nutrition program, not just during testing time, but every day. Davis: For me, I have a supportive superintendent. One of the things she allows me to do is take the things that we’ve done and share them with other, smaller districts. She’s been really, really supportive of me going out and training at other school districts and consulting with school boards when management companies are knocking on their door or they’re losing money or helping mentor other foodservice directors in other districts. … That to me is really important, and I think our superintendent has given us the confidence to help other schools do that. Taylor: This year [our state provided training on the new meal pattern via the] Oklahoma State University (OSU) extension. My [staff] went, and sitting in the training, when [the trainers] were talking about whole grains and fruits and vegetables, [my staff] were saying, “We already do that.” The OSU extension provider for our county said, “I always know when parents of kids from Shawnee schools are [in attendance at workshops], because the parents say their kids “want me to buy whole grains, they want me to buy carrots, because they’re eating them at school.” So, I would like to think that in my 20 years, I’ve changed the food choices that my town makes. SN School Nutrition thanks all the participants of this year’s Roundtable for their candid, thoughtful reflections. Photos by EZ Event Photography. BONUS WEB CONTENT Visit SchoolNutrition.org to access additional reflections from the participants of School Nutrition’s 2012 Roundtable of Leaders. Hear more about their backgrounds in school nutrition and operational achievements, as well as how they are meeting new regulatory challenges and their unanimous agreement on the one thing they would eradicate from K-12 school nutrition if they could. Check it out at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazine bonuscontent. SCHOOL NUTRITION 2012 ROUNDTABLE OF LEADERS Lori Adkins, SNS Child Nutrition Consultant Oakland Schools Waterford, Mich. Sonja Anthony, SNS Child Nutrition Director Jefferson County School District Birmingham, Ala. Debbi Beauvais, SNS District Supervisor of School Nutrition Services Gates Chili Central School District Rochester, N.Y. Doug Davis, SNS School Nutrition Director Burlington School District Burlington, Vt. Sherri Knutson, SNS Student Nutrition Services Coordinator Rochester Public Schools Rochester, Minn. Robert Lewis, PhD Director of Nutrition Services El Monte City School District El Monte, Calif. Susan Maffe, SNS Foodservice Director Meriden Public Schools Meriden, Conn. Donna Martin, SNS School Nutrition Director Burke County School District Waynesboro, Ga. Joan Shorter Food and Nutrition Services Director Prince George’s County Public Schools Upper Marlboro, Md. Deborah Taylor, SNS School Nutrition Director Shawnee Public Schools Shawnee, Okla.
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