By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2013-12-24 22:50:08
I wrote my first short stories in grade school by hand in spiral notebooks. High school projects were composed on a manual typewriter, and I was positively thrilled to receive a portable electric model as a gift to see me through college term papers. But by my senior year, I’d discovered a little-known lab in the library that offered in-the-know students access to early Macintosh personal computers—immediately, I was hooked on the ability to edit onscreen! I bought my own desktop computer four years later, but upon the introduction of Windows 95 and reasonably affordable laptops, the benefits of editing and writing while sitting on my couch or being away from home or the office meant that my oncebeloved desktop Mac was consigned to a local charity. Last fall, having concluded that the laptop is “just too heavy” to be comfortably portable (really?!), I bought a Microsoft Surface tablet with a detachable keyboard and a USB port to continue to edit on the go. Those are just a few of the highlights of my tech evolution as a writer/editor. (I won’t take up more space to wax nostalgic about the way the Internet and e-mail also have revolutionized how I do my job.) I know how reliant I’ve become on each new technology, so it’s hard to imagine how I accomplished the same basic tasks in the past (after all, I have produced more than 200 issues of this magazine over the years). Certainly, the same holds true for most of you. You’ve contended with many of the same challenges for decades: feed the kids, meet the regulations, serve healthy, safe meals. How have changing technological tools made a difference to you in meeting those challenges? What tasks and responsibilities have been made easier by the advancement of technology? Have some become new favorites— easing a formerly aggravating task? I asked dozens of busy school nutrition professionals to share their thoughts on this topic. As you review some of their wide-ranging responses, reflect on your own relationship with school nutrition technology and its evolution over the years. It may prompt you to be a bit more patient with some of the foibles of current tech (like my oh-so-heavy laptop) while you wait on the next new thing. It’s All Online “Technology has made this job so much easier!” exclaims Angela Haney, SNS, student nutrition director, Los Lunas (N.M.) Schools. She has numerous favorites; among them are online applications. “A parent can complete an application at 11:15 a.m., and the child can receive a free lunch when she goes through the line at 11:30 a.m.—all without anyone in the office having to review, push or upload anything,” she cites, adding, “Also, with online applications, we are not spending the entire weekend before school starts entering applications, as I did when I first started working in school nutrition.” Laura Farmer, SNS, foodservice director, Horry County (S.C.) School District, echoes this sentiment. “We processed 1,000 applications in one day; before, it took my whole 10-person staff working overtime for three days to complete this many,” she reports. Indeed, online applications topped the list for many school nutrition operators responding to the magazine’s query. Jeremy West, SNS, nutrition service director, Greeley- Evans Weld County (Colo.) School District 6, also values the security of online applications: “No lost forms in the mail or the inner-school mail system.” Nancy Coughenour, SNS, director of foodservices, Shawnee Mission (Kan.) Schools, agrees, noting that once applications are processed and approved, they flow into the POS system and parents are notified immediately. And it’s clear that parents in the community appreciate the technology: When her operation introduced this option in 2010, 49% of all applications were submitted online; by 2013, that number had jumped to 69%. Coughenour also points out a side benefit: The state agency can review these applications at their own office, saving almost a full day’s time in visits to school districts. In Pueblo, Colo., School District 60 CN Director Jill Kidd, RD, SNS, thought that applications scanning was a wonder. When her vendor, MCS Software, took the process online, she was over the moon at the reduction in labor time and costs. Many directors are enthusiastic about everything that can be found, accessed, stored and used online. Jane Hentzler, SNS, director in Lee’s Summit (Mo.) R-VII School District, for example, has a long list. “Wow! Where do I start???” For Hentzler, web processing not only makes the particularly onerous task of bids and vendor orders easier, but she loves systems that offer real-time access to a wide variety of information resources, from nutrition details for special diets to all sorts of historical data regarding a child’s purchases, to inventory, production records and so on. And Lori McKean, foodservices supervisor, Wapakoneta City (Ohio) Schools, calls online payment systems that allow parents to view their child’s purchase history, restrictions, accounts, etc. a “godsend” that “takes a lot of pressure off the staff.” Operations & Administration With more than 30 years in school nutrition, Linda Eichenberger, SNS, foodservice director, Oak Hills School District, Cincinnati, recalls doing inventory completely by hand: “All the calculations for every building had to be completed manually using a paper copy and a calculator.” She transitioned to an Excel spreadsheet, entering figures that her managers still compiled manually. “Now, the managers just enter information directly on their computers. It’s on a shared file, on our server, so I can pull it up and get the figures I need. I also know some districts that are using iPads for this—even simpler.” Karen Johnson, SNS, CN director, Yuma (Ariz.) Elementary School District, and an SNA past president, recollects “old school” bookkeeping methods: “Counts come in daily from the school sites via the school mail; make sure you write figures down on the spreadsheet using a pencil. Add everything up using an adding machine—then add it twice to see if you balance. If you don’t, run a third tape and hope for two out of three that match!” Her joking response to any complaints about today’s computer technology? “Get out the adding machine and start running a tape!” Across the state in Phoenix, Paradise Valley USD Director of Nutrition and Wellness Kathleen Glindmeier, SNS, is grateful for changes at the point-ofservice. “When I started in 1987, we used theater tickets with numbers coded for free, reduced and paid. This was a simple, but flawed system. Students would share the tickets, and fraud was a constant worry.” A transition to an automated system in the Nineties was a big improvement, but still required lots of reports, she says. “Fast forward to 2014 and the cloud. We are connected to all of the kitchen computers and in real time, go into their system and trouble shoot.” Donna Roy, SNS, school nutrition director, Pembroke (N.H.) School District, recalls cashiers going classroom to classroom to collect money and provide tickets to elementary students. Barb Mechura, director of nutrition and lifestyle services for Hopkins (Minn.) Public Schools, concurs. “I do not miss the antiquated methods of perforated, color-coded cardstock lunch tickets,” she says, adding that she’s also glad the days of “bank deposits that were nothing but one-dollar bills, quarters and dimes” are behind her. Problem Solving Weld County’s Jeremy West reports that his team is implementing an automated audit system to use for all kitchen site visits. “These audits are currently done on paper, but once implemented, we will be using Microsoft Surface Pro tablets and an app that allows us to build customizable audit tools, called iAuditor,” he notes. Also in the works is a plan to upload training materials (including standard operating procedures, photos and videos) onto the tablet devices, in order to turn those audit visits into “instant teachable moments,” West explains. “For example: An employee didn’t wash hands properly? This would be noted on the audit, and then we would pull up a handwashing video and show the employee right there.” At Cincinnati Public Schools, Food Services Director Jessica Shelly, MBA, REHS, RS, was faced with a district-wide mandate to go paperless—including menus. “Most of our families don’t have a home computer,” she notes. “But they do have smartphones. So, we developed a QR code for daily menus and printed it on a magnet for refrigerators at home. We’ve saved a ton in printing costs, and parents really like it, too.” Several school nutrition operations at districts in Ohio are using Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) to share information together. “We can compare lunch prices, salaries, benefits—anything that everyone wants to know,” explains Eichenberger. Reaching Out When districts are spread out over huge areas—as they are in New Mexico—directors embrace e-mail and text technologies that allow them to communicate with site kitchen managers more easily. “I can ask a question and get an answer—and photos— in minutes, instead of having to get in the car and drive 90 miles,” Angela Haney asserts. Similarly, many directors praise the ability to “batch” their communications— and have a documentation trail. “It’s such a time saver,” agrees Hentzler in Lee’s Summit, Mo. “For example, when a produce vendor tells me that an item was late and didn’t make it on a truck? I can forward that to all the schools at one time. I probably did Group Mail seven times today on different issues.” In Nags Head, N.C., Dare County Schools Child Nutrition Director Carol Sykes, SNS, gently notes that “most cafeteria managers are very social folks” and recalls how one question inevitably would lead to a 15-minute conversation. “I had a timer on the phone and watched the minutes going away. E-mail has made communication more efficient.” Technology offers improved contact with parents, too, cite a number of directors. In Collier County (Fla.) Public Schools, Director of Nutrition Services Dawn Houser, SNS, uses an electronic messenger system to notify parents “on everything from meal application deadlines, status changes, charges accrued by their child or any other message.” Houser also is excited about an “amazing” program called NutriSlice purchased by the state agency that allows parents and students to access a district’s menus, along with pictures, nutrient analysis, allergen information and other data. Lori Danella, SNS, nutrition services coordinator, Lee’s Summit (Mo.) R-7, gives a shout-out to another web-based service from School Nutrition Network (formerly School Nutrition and Fitness), which offers a customizable professional template for a school nutrition department website. It has “awesome” features, notes Danella, citing, in particular, an interactive menu section to help kids (and their parents) make good dietary decisions before coming through the lunch line. “We used to try and maintain our own website through the district and none of us had training in web design. … They do a great job and offer so much to us, the parents, the teachers, etc.” In her small, rural Levy County, Fla., school district, Coordinator of Food, Nutrition and Wellness Becky Tyson relies on e-mail to send a monthly Bits and Bytes newsletter to all district employees with informative tidbits gleaned from SNA and other organizations. It all sure beats the days when Jane Johnson, school nutrition director, Crane (Ariz.) Elementary School District, used her IBM Selectric II, with its fancy changeable type balls with different fonts, to create menus. “I would hoard clip art slicks, cutting out pictures, enlarging/ reducing them on the copier and then taping them into the day boxes on the menu [before copying on color paper],” she recounts. “What a joy it is to have clip art at my fingertips, a color printer and, if I want, a company to do it all for me!” Healthy Meals Danella calls the NutriKids POS system a “lifesaver” for getting her through her responsibilities regarding special diets. “We have more than 400 special diets recorded in our district, with probably about 60 diabetics, so this helps me, the nurses and the parents!” Sykes remembers the day when calculating calories or other nutrient information meant pulling a copy of The Nutrient Value of American Foods off the shelf. Similarly, Trish Molloy, RD, foodservice director, West Hartford (Conn.) Schools, used “a book published by Bowes and Church—which may ring a bell for other RDs—and looked up ingredients for items one by one. It was extremely time consuming and probably not very accurate!” Gadgets Galore School nutrition operators cite many other time-saving, efficiency-boosting tools: ■ In Rochester, Minn., SNS Coordinator Sherri Knutson, SNS, recently attended training on a biometric time clock system for employees. “Up until this point, the district had employed written timecards. Our staff soon will be able to request time off electronically and manage their own personal, sick, bereavement leave, etc. It is quite the transition,” she marvels. ■ Automated production records top the list for Cinthia Hiatt-Henry, SNS, director of nutrition services, McMinnville (Ore.) School District, who says, “I remember 8.5 x 14 spreadsheets we had to check every month, along with the formulas in the Food Buying Guide.” ■ Barcode scanning of inventory— including through a smartphone app— was cited. “I love the scanner that I loaded onto my phone. It scans Food Service reward points; we no longer need to go into the website and manually enter them. I wish other companies would go to this,” says Linda Eichenberger. ■ Systems that notify users by phone if a walk-in freezer or cooler falls above or below the proper temperature range get high marks from directors. Indeed, it’s on Becky Tyson’s wishlist and for good reason. “This has saved tons of money, because it never fails that three or four compressors decide to go out during our 100-degree summer days,” says Lori Danella. Mary Kuhn, director in Hardin County (Ky.) Schools, says she uses SMART Temps to monitor her equipment, as well as the temperatures of food items. She can view temperatures online and confirm that the food flow at each school is being handled properly, Kuhn reports. ■ Software programs that allow the user to produce and send (with postage, via snail mail) birthday cards, thank you notes, seasonal greetings, invitations and gifts to individual employees, is a favorite cited by Claudie Phillips, foodservice director, School District U-46, Elgin, Ill. ■ Online training for employees provides greater efficiencies, says Kathleen Glindmeier. ■ “Facebook is a terrific marketing tool that allows us to connect to our community,” cites Donna Roy. Similarly, Melissa Donaldson, RD, SNS, CNP coordinator, Trussville City (Ala.) Schools, is a huge fan of Twitter, tweeting menus daily. ■ Combi-ovens allow onsite cooking even in very small school kitchens. “Schools now have the inviting smell of food cooking and greatly improved food quality,” reports Jill Kidd. Looking Ahead Debbi Beauvais, RD, SNS, district supervisor of school nutrition, Gates Chili, East Rochester & East Irondequoit (N.Y.), has seen a complete technological evolution in her district. “Fourteen years ago, when I started, there was a dust cover on the computer, and it sat on the credenza behind the foodservice director,” she recounts. “I would spend my whole day on the phone calling buildings to tell them a delivery was late or that I needed a food order, etc.” Beauvais was fortunate to learn of the upgrade of educational computers at one site, with the old units earmarked for disposal. She requested the cast-offs for each of her kitchen manager offices. “[They] thought I was nuts, but honored my request.” That led to e-mail communications. Shortly thereafter was the implementation of a POS software and “no more student check-off rosters!” followed by online prepayments and many other efficiencies. “I manage three different school districts, and it is seamless. I can handle issues from any site,” Beauvais notes. “Do I have a favorite? It’s tough to say, but the job would be very different if these technologies were not in play.” New Mexico’s Angela Haney agrees: “The more technology we can bring in, the more all of our lives are simplified.” But Minnesota’s Barb Mechura raises a cautionary point worth ending on: “Technology most certainly has increased the speed at which we do our work—and increased everyone’s expectations about how quickly they expect it to be done. The exponential multitude of e-mails in our inbox are, some days, the bane of our existence, keeping us tied to our desks, rather than in the cafeterias and kitchens. … Did anyone taking nutrition or hospitality college courses 25-35 years ago ever think that they would have a closer relationship with a technology specialist than a butcher!? Times,s indeed, have changed!” Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition. Photography by iStockphoto.com. Blast From the Past: 1964 We took a look through our archives to check out technology coverage over the last 50 years. It’s amazing what doesn’t change over the years. Debating “The Dilemma of Vending in Schools” One of the most controversial areas of school foodservice today concerns the use of vending machines for distribution of foods ranging from snack items to a Type A lunch. [One viewpoint:] “We believe that food service in schools is a part of the education process. The school lunchroom is a laboratory where good health and eating habits are taught, where good citizenship is practiced, where social graces may be acquired, where student morale may be heightened…. It is difficult to imagine how any of these benefits can continue in the confused, mechanical and dehumanized atmosphere engendered by a battery of vending machines. …” [Another viewpoint:] “Let’s look at another aspect of food vending—one which is important to your day-to-day work and the ideal of service to which you are dedicated. Can vending help you serve better food to greater numbers of children? The answer is that in many schools in widely separated parts of the nation, vending is doing just that—making good nourishing food available to school children who were formerly not participating in the school lunch program.” —School Lunch Journal, April 1964 Blast From the Past: 2004 We took a look through our archives to check out technology coverage over the last 50 years. Between 1997 and 2007, with technology changing at such a rapid pace, the magazine published a technology issue every year. Topics for January 2004, “Don’t Get Swamped by the Changing Tides of Technology,” included: ■ Reducing the Pounds—Of Paper Technology advances in processing meal applications can save time and money. ■ The Need for Speed Faster and easier access to information defines the expanding spectrum of communications technology. ■ Shop Right Ready to join the 21st century with your first home computer? We’ll help you define what you need and understand how to find it. ■ More Power to the People The Internet provides John Q. Public with greater information, access and influence when it comes to legislative activism. BONUS WEB CONTENT Want more “blast from the past” trips through the magazine’s archives? Check out what technology coverage we found in issues from 1974, 1984 and 1994 online at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent.
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