Mark Ward 2012-11-27 19:31:25
These award-winning New England leaders showcase creative approaches in their small states. Meet Gail Koutroubas Make sure your members get value from every activity.” That’s the advice of Gail Koutroubas, nutrition director for Andover (Mass.) Public Schools and winner of an SNA 2012 President’s Award of Excellence for her work last year as president of the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts (SNAM). The group retained nearly 90% of its existing members, while adding more than 100 new members and increasing its total membership by 10% during her 2011-12 tenure. Koutroubas attributes the growth to the state affiliate’s commitment to ensure that every SNAM member—from directors to line staff—got “something valuable each time they interacted with us, whether they were attending an event or reading a communication.” Twists and Takeaways Two examples illustrate Koutroubas’s approach. First, SNAM provided extra value for cafeteria- level members by scheduling Saturday training classes in meal preparation across the state, which also focused on demonstrating how trainees could take advantage of a state farm-to-school program (which provided $3,000 in funding). Up to 30 participants attended each class, spending three hours with a trained chef to learn cooking techniques for locally grown vegetables and tips for preparing dishes that meet the criteria for the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC). In addition, Koutroubas and her leadership team put an innovative twist on an idea sparked by a regular feature of SNA’s Child Nutrition Industry Conference (CNIC). “Our idea to hold Innovation Station workshops in our state came from CNIC,” concedes Koutroubas,” but we took a little different approach.” Instead of industry-focused new-product presentations, the training sessions, held in eastern and western Massachusetts, featured chef educators. At each of the two workshops, attendance was limited to 80 participants, who then were split into groups of 10. Individual groups spent 15 minutes at each of eight Innovation Stations, observing and assisting the station chef in preparing and tasting recipes that met or exceeded the new meal pattern requirements. A total of 160 managers, cooks and line staff were trained at the two events. “Everybody walked away with eight to ten recipes that meet all the criteria and that they can use in their districts,” reports Koutroubas. Evaluations affirmed the success of the event; comments included “Best training ever” and “I learned so much.” Vision of Value In her “real” job, Koutroubas strives to provide value for the 6,100 students who attend Andover Public Schools. With only 7% of students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals in this affluent community, “When I came here, participation in school lunch was 20%. There was a perception that school lunch was [only] for the needy,” she notes. Since coming to the district in 2005, her emphasis on providing quality menus, variety and a reduced reliance on processed foods has made a difference, with participation now up to 50%. Koutroubas’s interest in food stems from her Massachusetts upbringing in a Greek- American family “where family meals were central to everything we did,” she recounts. At her first job, at a local factory, she convinced the owners to let her set up and run an onsite delicatessen. And her interest in school operations was piqued in 1985, when she learned of and successfully pursued an opening for a cafeteria manager at the Hellenic American School she had attended during her childhood. Koutroubas moved on in 1988 to Salem, N.H., and, as a high school cafeteria manager, became “excited about the chances I had to implement my own ideas.” During her 13 years in Salem, she installed a food court, as well as serving lines for deli, pizza, pasta and even yogurt and smoothie bars—long before their current popularity. In 2001, Koutroubas returned to Massachusetts for an opportunity to direct the program in Brookline, and four years later took her current position in Andover. “My profession has given me so much of value,” she says. “My work here and my SNA involvement are chances to give something back.” And serving as a state affiliate president is a part of that puzzle. “Getting involved in committees and offices only increases the relationships I’ve been able to cultivate in order to get the help and new ideas I’ve needed.” Current Title: School Nutrition Director City, State: Andover, Mass. Favorite School Food as a Kid: American chop suey Bedside Book/Magazine: Talking Back by Andrea Mitchell Top of Your Bucket List: Spend summers in Crete Dream Dinner Guest: Bill Clinton Favorite Subject in School: English Meet Jeanne Pierce There’s a problem nobody likes to talk about. With many school nutrition professionals opting for retirement, state affiliates are facing a time of turnover and a real need for the recruitment of new members, asserts Jeanne Pierce, SNS, president of the School Nutrition Association of New Hampshire (SNA-NH). While she felt particularly fortunate to have the support of individuals stepping up to serve as committee chairs when she took office in 2011, Pierce concedes that “for the last 15 years or so, we haven’t had true committees,” due to a lack of volunteers. But SNA-NH has turned things around, establishing a foundation to facilitate member involvement even further. Indeed, the scope of this turnaround earned Pierce recognition as a 2012 winner of an SNA President’s Award of Excellence. She is quick to credit success at SNA-NH to a “team effort.” The initial step was to establish continuity and stability by asking committee chairs to serve three-year terms. Next, the SNA-NH board conducted the first review of the organization’s bylaws in more than a dozen years. “We couldn’t ask members to get more involved, if our bylaws were vague about the responsibilities for each of our positions,” she points out. Strategy Into Action During the first year of Pierce’s SNA-NH tenure (she also is serving as 2012-13 president), job descriptions for each volunteer position were rewritten, and updated bylaws were approved by a membership vote. In addition, the board’s executive committee overhauled the organization’s Policy and Procedure Manual. Finally, a State Plan of Action was adopted with the motto “Consider Yourself Asked.” This plan covered everything from board recruitment and new leader training to membership growth, professional development and legislative outreach. “The next step was to get the volunteers— simply by reaching out in person and asking them,” explains Pierce. “The new bylaws, manual and action plan meant we could ask for specific, rather than openended, commitments.” These strategies, she reports, were coupled with a commitment “not only to spend the time making calls, but go beyond the ‘usual’ people who get asked to volunteer for committees.” The results were dramatic. No longer are SNA-NH committees a one-person show, but active groups with serving members. That, in turn, has boosted association programming. Last year, SNA-NH offered Healthy Edge, Serving It Safe and SNA Level I Certification classes across New Hampshire, plus an array of training opportunities at its annual conference. Legislative outreach also is up, including an event in which members prepared a school breakfast— including kale chips—for the New Hampshire governor and his Executive Council Committee members. Pierce’s Pieces Pierce, whose full-time job is as school foodservice director for the Exeter (N.H.) Cooperative School District, has come a long way since graduating from Johnson and Wales University in 1985 with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Early dreams of travel to new places led her to Nashville’s famed Opryland Hotel, but a yearning for her native New England brought her back to the area through a job in dining hall management at Boston University and then, in 1990, to a position directing the school foodservice program in the town of Cohasset, Mass., located near Boston. “When I started in school nutrition,” Pierce recounts, “I found that I liked the honesty of the kids, how engaging and intuitive they are. Though the job is demanding, you have variety, because you wear so many hats. Since every day is different, you have to think on your feet.” Pierce went on to direct school nutrition in the Massachusetts district where she had once gone to school. Then, following a 2001 move to New Hampshire, she headed school nutrition in two districts before coming to Exeter’s program in 2004—the year she joined SNA. “Our profession is unique in our compassion and our openness to share and to try new ideas,” she states. “ If we can encourage more people to take part in our professional community, they’ll see it and become tomorrow’s leaders.” Current Title: School Foodservice Director City, State: Exeter, N.H. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Meteorologist Top of Your Bucket List: See the Grand Canyon Dream Dinner Guest: Julia Child Favorite Subject in School: History Hobbies: Yardwork Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas
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