By Mark Ward, Sr., PhD 2013-10-02 03:46:29
Two SNA award winners share why they are hooked on school nutrition and continually seek to innovate. Meet Angela Haney Current Title: Director of Student Nutrition City, State: Los Lunas, N.M. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: United Nations interpreter Bedside Book/Magazine: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini Dream Dinner Guest: Jane Austen Top of Your Bucket List: Take an embroidery class at the Royal School of Needlework in London Place You’d Like to Visit: India Growing up with a mother who worked at the local elementary school kitchen in Selma, Ind., Angela Haney, SNS, “watched the ladies prepare meals before class. One of the most exciting days of my life happened when I was 7 years old,” she recounts. “I was finally tall enough to help out by turning the big handle on the industrial can opener!” Haney’s childhood enthusiasm for school meals eventually led her on a path to being named the 2013 SNA Outstanding Director of the Year. Today, Haney serves as director of student nutrition for Los Lunas (N.M.) Schools. But she began her career in other foodservice venues before turning to the K-12 segment 15 years ago. Haney credits her awardwinning success to a single, laser-focused guideline that she applies to every decision: “’Will it help kids eat better?’ If something is right for your kids, then you can be courageous, because it will eventually work out,” she counsels. “As a director, you must determine what’s worth fighting for and what you can let go. Next, you must convince others what’s important through role modeling and good communication.” Angela’s Accolades By exercising such leadership, Haney has racked up a list of impressive accomplishments at Los Lunas Schools, a district of 15 schools and some 8,500 students. In the last seven years, Haney has nearly doubled her program’s annual budget to $4.5 million. Lunch and breakfast participation have risen, afterschool snack and summer feeding programs have grown and an afterschool dinner initiative, with high school students helping younger kids with their homework, will be piloted this fall. More eligible students are signing up to participate in the reimbursable meal programs since Haney instituted an online application process. This initiative, which reduced paper applications from 9,000 to only 200, also has saved $5,000. Other technological applications include an automatic calling system that alerts parents to outstanding account balances; it reduced year-end receivables in 2013 to less than $100. Haney says she’s “especially proud” of the department’s farm-to-school program and “of the training we’ve done to raise the skill level of our staff and to identify potential managers.” She combines inservice training days with recurring “Five- Minute Lessons” held throughout the year. During her tenure, the number of staff members who hold SNA certification has tripled, with more than half achieving this professional benchmark. Becoming a “Lunch Teacher” Haney cites the influence of both her mother—the onetime lunch lady—and her grandmother, who had shared romantic memories of teaching in a one-room South Dakota prairie schoolhouse in the 1920s. This prompted Haney to pursue teaching as a career, and in 1980, she earned a degree in home economics from Indiana University—only to discover there were no teaching jobs available. Over the years, she managed a Godfather’s Pizza parlor, an Indiana University Hospital kitchen and a Ball State University sandwich shop and campus convenience store. Along the way, she learned about gourmet cooking during a stint as a part-time chef assistant at nearby Butler University, and she worked for a period as a nursing home purchasing manager. In 1998, concerned that her career had reached a plateau, Haney made the bold decisions to cross the country and interview for a teaching job in Shiprock, N.M. “My sister lived nearby in Santa Fe,” she explains, “and I was ready for a new challenge.” Instead of the teaching position, however, she was offered work as nutrition director for the Navajo tribal school district, where she introduced Provision 2 universal breakfast, hired a registered dietitian, launched afterschool snack and summer feeding programs and increased her yearly budget by 30%. While busy transforming the programs at Shiprock and now Los Lunas, Haney has always found time for SNA and volunteer leadership at the state and national levels. “When I started, right away I decided school nutrition was a great career—and right away I joined SNA. So much of what I’ve accomplished is due to all the great ideas I’ve learned and the encouragement I’ve received from others,” she asserts. Meet Sean Leer Current Title: Vice President Company: Gold Star Foods Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Emergency room doctor Dream Dinner Guest: Albert Einstein Top of Your Bucket List: Ride in a motorcade or take batting practice at Fenway Park Place You’d Like to Visit: New England during the fall foliage Hobbies: Hunting, fishing, Little League baseball Asked to name his favorite school lunch as a kid, Sean Leer hesitates. “I was so scared of our server, I didn’t start eating school lunch until high school,” concedes the vice president of Gold Star Foods, a leading distributor to the K-12 school market. Named SNA’s 2013 Industry Member of the Year, Leer shares this childhood story for two reasons. “First,” he explains, “it tells me that the way a school nutrition program is perceived by its customer is important. Operators and industry must work together in finding solutions that get students excited—and that staffs are excited about serving.” Second, Leer tells his story to illustrate a point about what matters in life. “I graduated with a degree in political science and an ambition to be a Secret Service agent or a lawyer,” he confesses. “But I stumbled into an unexpected opportunity and became a distributor serving the school market. I stayed in the business because of the operators I met. Their dedication fired my own passion to serve the greater good and seek rewards beyond a paycheck.” Serving up Solutions The challenges of school nutrition also inspire a second passion, namely Leer’s innate enjoyment of problem solving and discovering solutions. Combine the two—a commitment to the greater good and a “can do” spirit—and the results are impressive. Based in Ontario, Calif., Gold Star Foods serves schools in the Golden State, as well as Arizona and Nevada. Under Leer’s leadership, the firm has used its position as a middleman in the supply chain to bring food suppliers and school districts together in innovative ways. For example, small, local businesses and farms often struggle to break into the school market, lacking the economies of scale to supply foods at the required price points and lacking the financing and marketing resources to compete against larger producers. But through the Gold Star “Get Connected” program, the distributor has identified various products (which meet federal reimbursable meal standards) from small, regional suppliers, subsequently aggregating the offerings and expediting payment so that these producers avoid undue burdens on their capitalization and cash flow. In the farm-to-school segment alone, Gold Star’s aggregation program now serves more than 1.5 million students per day with fresh produce from farms within 200 miles of Los Angeles. “It can be difficult for small farms to meet the often-costly food safety requirements mandated” for the federal programs, Leer reports. But Gold Star works with key aggregators to collect local produce and combine it into larger shipments that can be more easily inspected and distributed. Problem-solving has been a hallmark of Leer’s career since 1994. That year, the Washington State native established a Pacific Northwest-based distributorship for SFSPac Food Service Sanitation Systems. Four years later, he rose to become Western region manager for SFSPac parent PortionPac, and in 2008 he was recruited by Gold Star Foods. As vice president, he oversees sales, marketing and new program development for an enterprise that currently supplies more than 420 school districts that serve 3.3 million meals per day. Innovative Involvement Through his 20 years working on the industry side of the K-12 segment, Leer has been active in SNA at the national and state levels. Service includes a recent term on the SNA Research Committee and his current work as program co-chair of the 2014 School Nutrition Industry Conference, to be held January 12-14 in Miami. “My SNA involvement brings so many benefits,” he relates. “It keeps me updated on the latest information and gives me a great way to network with operators. To find solutions, you can’t generalize; you must be engaged and listen to the specific needs of each district.” The school nutrition supply chain continues to change, and Leer sees more districts adopting performance-based procurement criteria. “Running a program that serves so many masters is like threading a needle,” he states. “That’s why operators are looking for vendors who provide value, as well as product.”
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