Mark Ward 2013-05-02 05:20:41
This Knox County pair demonstrate how mentor relationships can help ensure future school nutrition success. Meet Jonathan Dickl When Jonathan Dickl, SNS, was hired in 2010 to direct school nutrition for Knox County (Tenn.) Schools, he inherited a financially sound program whose 650 staff members today serve more than 58,000 students in 83 schools on a yearly budget of $26 million. “But my goal was to take our program to the next level, with more emphasis on menu choice and fresh foods,” Dickl recalls, “and to branch out in new directions, from getting grants to supporting school gardens.” To do that, he realized, “We needed to update our organizational structure.” What emerged is an organization chart that depicts the expert assistance that Dickl receives from three senior field managers, who, in turn, supervise six school area leaders. Each leader oversees 13-15 school cafeterias and is assigned responsibility for one area of program operations. Between them, the six school area leaders handle training, marketing, special projects, quality assurance, safety and process management initiatives. Mentoring Is Meaningful For Dickl, assuming the role of mentor at this phase of his career brings a special satisfaction. “I’m at a stage in my life where I [want to] stop moving around, plug in and make a lasting contribution. Part of that is mentoring others in the same way that I was mentored,” he declares. To build his six-member team of school area leaders, Dickl sought individuals who could bring different strengths and experiences to the program. Three leaders were promoted from within, while three were recruited from outside the Knoxville district, including Kristin Dewine (see next page), who oversees special projects. In describing his role as a mentor, Dickl says, “I try to edify and encourage my mentees by giving them positive reinforcement. I also want to empower mentees through professional development, encouraging them to be active in SNA and take advantage of [resources] like the National Food Service Management Institute.” Dickl keeps his eye on the long view. “I want them to be capable of stepping up as senior field managers—or someday, as directors,” he says, expecting his mentees to “be willing to learn, to grow professionally and to have a desire to move up.” In the Stars His own fierce desire to learn and grow characterizes Dickl’s professional journey. As a teen in Florida, he fell in love with food by preparing family meals while his mother worked a late shift. He managed a steakhouse at age 19, graduated from a local culinary program in 1985 and managed more restaurants while earning an associate’s degree in 1992. In 1994, he joined a food distributor and hit the road doing sales. But after marriage and plans to start a family, Dickl grew weary of the rigors of sales travel. In 1997, a business card posted on a church bulletin board led to his being hired as a manager trainee with Seminole County (Fla.) Public Schools. After earning a bachelor’s degree in organizational management, he opted to return to industry, but by 2000, his career path led him back to the Seminole district, this time as a field supervisor. Dickl continued his education, eventually earning an MBA—and with the mentorship of Seminole School Nutrition Director Dan Andrews and Assistant Director Linda Daniels, by 2005, he was ready to direct his own program at the School Board of Highlands County, Sebring, Fla. His achievements there led to the 2007 FAME Silver Rising Star Award. “If it weren’t for my networking through SNA,” Dickl reports, “I wouldn’t be in the profession.” His connections ultimately yielded an assistant director position in the Clarksville-Montgomery County (Tenn.) Schools, where Child Nutrition Director Debbie Mobley, SNS, became another valued mentor. Since arriving at Knox County Schools in 2010, Dickl has stepped up his participation in his national association, serving as 2013 SNA Annual National Conference (ANC) program chair this summer in Kansas City, Mo. There, he also will be installed to SNA’s Board of Directors as Southeast regional director. He doesn’t second-guess his volunteer commitment. “It’s worth it,” he exclaims, “because the relationships you form in this profession—between peers, between mentors and mentees—can be not only beneficial, but long-lasting.” SN Meet Kristin Dewine In Denver last July, Kristin Dewine presented an education session at SNA’s 2012 Annual National Conference (ANC), describing “Things My Professor Never Told Me About School Nutrition.” Her presentation was a plea, she says, for college and university nutrition and dietetics programs to “acquaint students with the possibilities of school nutrition” as a viable vocation and a message for recent graduates that “the profession has so much to offer for a great long-term career.” Dewine had to make this discovery on her own, finding both a great job and a mentor when she was hired two years ago by Jonathan Dickl, SNS (see previous page), to be a school area leader in the child nutrition program at Knox County (Tenn.) Schools. She provides field supervision for 14 school cafeterias and is responsible for a variety of special projects, including a grant-funded breakfast program, as well programs for after school snacks, evening supper, special diets and fresh produce, plus a farm-to school initiative. She also serves as a liaison to different allied organizations. “And when I first arrived, with zero experience in school nutrition,” she recalls, “it was all so overwhelming!” Sticking With It Dewine’s start in school nutrition is a classic case of initial disappointment turned to unexpected opportunity. An internship was a requirement for her eventual degree in food and nutrition from the University of Tennessee. Though her college program “mainly highlighted clinical settings,” she ended up contacting Dickl about the possibility of a K-12 school internship. “He was so passionate and inspiring about school nutrition,” she recounts, “that I was really turned on to the possibilities of making it my career.” For various reasons, the internship was not approved. Undeterred, Dewine e-mailed Dickl about the decision and thanked him for his time. To her surprise and delight, that e-mail led to further correspondence—and eventually a job offer! Dickl saw her talent and potential, citing not only her recent degree in food and nutrition, but an earlier one she earned in communications. “Her ability to communicate what we do adds a new skill set to our team,” he explains. Diving Right In “I sensed right away that I’d come to a great place to work,” recounts Dewine. “A week after I was hired [in 2011], Jon took me to ANC in Nashville.” Back on the job, she admits that initially, “I was overwhelmed. Suddenly I was responsible for 14 schools, even though I had no experience in school nutrition and had never been a manager.” But Dewine says she had two things in her favor. “I thrive on challenge,” she explains, “and Jon wanted to be my mentor. His door is always open. He creates an atmosphere where we feel safe to ask questions and have our own ideas. It wasn’t long before I decided that my career goal was to be a district director someday, and he isn’t threatened by that. He encourages it.” When some veteran cafeteria managers and staff members expressed reservations about reporting to a twenty-something supervisor, Dewine says, “Jon suggested I get on their level and work in the kitchen with them. And I’ve tried to emulate his leadership style of being a good listener and encouraging team decision-making. Jon is charismatic; people gravitate toward him . . . always respecting him. I want to be like that.” Dickl also is introducing Dewine to broader vistas beyond her primary job responsibilities. “He’s involved me in the budgeting process, so I can be exposed to all aspects of operations,” she affirms, “and he encourages me to get involved in SNA.” It all has happened fast for the native Tennessean, who admits, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I went back to college to get my second degree. But now I’ve truly found my niche!” [Editors’ Note: Look for more on the subject of mentoring in school nutrition in School Nutrition’s August 2013 issue.] Jonathan Dickl, SNS Current Title: Director of School Nutrition City, State: Knoxville, Tenn. Favorite School Food as a Kid: “Manager’s Choice” ( “I love surprises!”) Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Human resources professional Bedside Book/Magazine: One Second After by William Forstchen Dream Dinner Guest: Teddy Roosevelt Favorite Subject in School: History Kristin Dewine Current Title: School Area Leader City, State: Knoxville, Tenn. Nickname: “Special K” Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Physician assistant Top of Your Bucket List: ”Get my MBA and direct a school nutrition program“ Dream Dinner Guest: Peyton Manning (“my fellow UT alumnus!”) Hobbies: Running, reading, watching football and “planning my September wedding!”
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