By Mark Ward 2013-11-30 13:02:27
State affiliate presidents share their top secrets for leadership success. Meet Jane McLucas When Jane McLucas, SNS, finished her degree in hospitality and restaurant management, she aspired to a career that would be “glamorous and fun and allow me to meet the public.” A 10-year stint in college dining services with a private management company followed. “I learned a lot,” she recalls. Nonetheless, a decade later, she was ready for a new challenge. “School nutrition had always intrigued me,” McLucas continues, and in 1999, she stumbled upon a unique opportunity to explore the foodservice segment firsthand. The school nutrition director for her local district, Norwood (Mass.) Public Schools, was starting a family and in search of someone to share her job. The incumbent would oversee the secondary schools, while the new hire would supervise elementary sites. As co-directors, both individuals would work part-time. McLucas jumped at the opportunity, even though it meant giving up her full-time job. “That first year,” she relates, “I had the unique privilege of learning the ropes from an experienced director who was will still on the job.” One of the first pieces of advice McLucas received was her co-director’s urging to get involved in the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts (SNAM). Ten years later, McLucas found herself serving as SNAM president in 2012-13. For her achievements in that role, she received a 2013 SNA President’s Award of Excellence, which recognizes extraordinary leadership in successfully implementing strategies at the state affiliate level. That decade in between had been an eye-opener, McLucas admits. K-12 was very different from the college sector. Diving in the Deep End “Compared to my previous work in college dining,” she explains, “in my new job I had to learn about the regulations and meal patterns. In school nutrition, my staff was mostly parents. And I had to charge about $2 per plate, not $8. Also, in school nutrition, I found that being a director means working for multiple [customer groups]: students, parents, teachers, principals, supervisors and boards and committees.” Still, McLucas had two things going for her. First, her co-director was on the job alongside of her that initial year and only a phone call away while on leave the following year. By the third year, when her mentor permanently stepped down and McLucas took the title of full-time foodservice director, she had a solid grasp of the job. Second, she had her own passion. “As a newcomer, I was determined to soak up every bit of knowledge I could gain from SNAM programs and networking,” she recounts. “It’s great that in our profession everybody is so willing to share. They know that success in my school district doesn’t take away sales from their districts.” Finding a Niche Continual access to professional development gave McLucas the confidence to hone her leadership style as a new director. The style she prefers, situational leadership, varies according to the needs of followers. “That means adjusting my leadership style to fit each person,” McLucas explains. “So I may adjust how much decision-making I delegate, whether to give a manager a free hand or to provide more guidance. And when things need to be done, I go to people based on their strengths.” The result, she reveals, is a program that is well accepted by the district, “because our staff is empowered to partner effectively with our schools.” This starts with McLucas herself. “The longer I’m here, the more trust I earn from the administration,” leading to more innovations. Such lessons served McLucas well during her term as SNAM president, during which time the organization retained 94% of current members and exceeded its recruitment goal to stand at nearly 900 members. “The key is personal contact,” she advises. “From our board to our membership chair, we had someone speak in person at every single one of our local chapters, rather than just relying on e-mails and newsletters and mailings.” The benefits of Association involvement are not hard for McLucas to sell. “Service takes time,” she states, “but you develop leadership skills, and you’re the first to get the latest information. You definitely get back more than you give.” Jane McLucas, SNS Current Title: Foodservice Director City, State: Norwood, Mass. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Teacher Bedside Book/Magazine: 3rd Degree by James Patterson Dream Dinner Guests: Prince William and Kate Middleton Favorite Subject in School: Math Hobbies: Skiing, camping, rafting, “visiting all the national parks” Meet Cindy Cooper For Cindy Cooper, SNS, regional consultant for the Tennessee Department of Education’s School Nutrition Program, memories of food and nutrition date back to her childhood days in the Volunteer State when her mother worked as a school cafeteria manager and her parents operated a hotdog-and-hamburger stand at weekend flea markets. “Weekday mornings, I’d fill the napkin holders and check the salt shakers in Mom’s cafeteria,” Cooper recounts, “and on weekends I’d sell food with my folks.” From those humble beginnings, Cooper has journeyed to a national conference stage where, in front of an audience numbering in the thousands, she received an SNA President’s Award of Excellence for her achievements in 2012-13 as president of the Tennessee School Nutrition Association (TSNA). The group boasts some 3,000 members and, under Cooper’s leadership, added a Culinary Academy program to its already successful Leadership Academy. “We graduated 20 people in our first year,” she reports, “and there’s a lot of excitement, as these people bring their new culinary skills back to their districts and train others.” Train and Gain Cooper can appreciate that excitement. Before joining the Department of Education, she spent a half-dozen years directing school nutrition in her Tennessee hometown of Crossville. And before that, she earned a degree in biology and chemistry from Tennessee Tech and then spent six years with Head Start, initially as a health and nutrition specialist and later as a program manager. Then in 1994, she learned that, for the first time in 47 years, Cumberland County Public Schools in Crossville had an opening for a nutrition director. “I’d known the woman who’d been director,” Cooper recalls, “and succeeding her was a dream come true. I’d always wanted to do school nutrition, and I could work near my family.” The transition to school nutrition went smoothly enough on the operations side. “But maybe because my dad had been a four-time mayor of Crossville, I could see that school lunch had its politics,” she notes. “People were invested in school lunch, which is good. The flip side is that everyone had an opinion, though they didn’t know the regulations we operated under. Still, that provided us positive opportunities to educate leaders about school nutrition.” After just six years in her new profession, Cooper had become a passionate believer and yearned to promote school nutrition statewide. That led to a 2001 stint as TSNA executive director, followed a year later by the move to her current position with the Department of Education. “Over the years, I had discovered that I love training others,” she explains. “Since that’s what a regional consultant does, my decision was easy.” Based out of the state office in Cookeville, Cooper provides training and technical assistance and conducts reviews for school lunch and breakfast programs across Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland and Southeast regions. When it comes to effective training, “You’ve got to make it fun, keep people motivated and prevent them from becoming frustrated—all without dumbing down the material,” she counsels. “School nutrition personnel, from directors and managers to cooks and servers, really do want to learn. I’ve found the best way is through telling stories they can relate to. Then I encourage them to tell stories. And before long, everyone feels safe to share and discuss both their successes and their mistakes.” Tennessee Titan This personal touch also was a key to Cooper’s success as TSNA president. “You need to go ask people,” she advises, noting that a simple invitation can make all the difference. “Ask not only the people who usually get involved but also the ‘unexpected’ people who, if given a chance, can bring freshness and newness.” Cooper continues to ask a lot of herself. After earning a Tennessee State University master’s degree in strategic leadership in 2009, she hopes to pursue a doctorate—and would love to attend a culinary school! “I’ve still got a lot of years to give to the profession I love,” she says. Cindy Cooper, SNS Current Title: Regional Consultant Company: Cookeville, Tenn. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Chef/restaurant owner Bedside Book/Magazine: Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen Top of Your Bucket List: Finish writing my Healthy Doggy Recipe Book Dream Dinner Guest: Benjamin Franklin Hobbies: Dog rescue, baking, cooking, working out Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas.
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