By Mark Ward, SR., PHD 2014-03-27 07:48:53
Two FAME winners bring equal passion for making a difference to large and small school meal operations. Meet Bertrand Weber Current Title: Director of Culinary and Nutrition Services City, State: Minneapolis, Minn. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Pediatrician Bedside Book/Magazine: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan Top of Your Bucket List: Skydiving Dream Dinner Guest: Julia Child Favorite Subject in School: Math The doctor’s diagnosis— Bertrand Weber’s seven-year-old son had Type I diabetes—instantly galvanized the father. Leaving his position as a Minneapolis hotel manager, Weber put his career on hold. He spent the next year taking his son to school each day, administering insulin shots and monitoring the boy’s carbohydrate intake at lunch. “And when I saw what was being served at [his son’s] school, I was shocked,” he says. “That’s when I learned how poor nutrition negatively impacts health—and when I became determined to change the food being served in schools.” In 2003, after 30 years in the hotel and restaurant trade, Weber decided to apply his experience to the school nutrition segment. Following a brief stint at a smaller district and a longer one with a private management company, Weber was named director of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) in 2012. There, he is truly achieving his goal of changing school meals, garnering national recognition as winner of the 2014 FAME Silver Rising Star Award. Up for the Challenge MPS operates 62 schools that enroll some 34,000 students. A generation ago, Minneapolis had moved to the centralized production of heat-and-serve meals. Today, operators have mixed opinions on the role of this approach versus onsite prep in producing healthy, appealing, cost-efficient meals for kids. Soon after his appointment, Weber notified everyone—staff, students and parents—that “real food” would return to MPS. The rub, however, was that 53 of the district’s 62 schools lacked any substantive kitchen equipment. After brainstorming with his staff and building support throughout the community, Weber launched a five-year plan designed to transform not only the operations of his program, but its very culture. “My first year was about communicating and listening,” he explains. “Last year, we focused on changes that could be done internally on our own. This year, we’re fine-tuning those changes. Looking ahead, we’ve commissioned a feasibility study for flipping the district from prepackaged foods to onsite preparation. The first five years is about setting the stage. The transformation itself could take 10 years. My role as director is as the catalyst who articulates the vision, sets the goals and parameters and gains support.” Setting a Foundation Even if changes to this point are somewhat incremental, they are foundational. Weber’s first initiative, a once-a-week scratch-cooking program held at a single high school, provided the opportunity to test menus and elicit student feedback. Using the results as a model, Weber rolled out the program—upgrading kitchens as necessary—in all seven MPS high schools. Now, district teens enjoy six culturally diverse menu choices every day, many of these featuring locally sourced ingredients from a farm-to-school initiative. Equipment and space deficiencies at the elementary and middle schools have slowed the introduction of scratch-cooked foods at these sites. Nevertheless, Weber and his team have found ways to step up menus at this level, including installing salad bars that offer fresh fruit and vegetables, bean salads and whole-grain breads. District-wide, lunch participation and revenue both have risen by about 10%. More important, he adds, “Principals and teachers are telling me about an incredible behavioral change in their cafeterias. Rather than loud noise and food fights, students are sitting down and having conversations.” Mealtime conviviality is part of Weber’s DNA. Born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, his family owned a butcher and catering shop. “I was making dinners for my family by age ten,” he recalls. When Weber was a teen, his father realized a dream of starting a Swiss restaurant in America. Weber shared that enthusiasm, working after school for his dad and later entering the restaurant trade himself. Following a year’s training in Switzerland at the prestigious École Hôtelière de Genève, he returned to the United States and launched a career in hotel and restaurant management. Fast forward to today, and Weber is applying his culinary passions not only to his mission to change the foods offered in Minneapolis schools, but on a larger stage. “Through SNA, Major City directors are getting together,” he reports. “Our purchasing power with the manufacturers can make changes that will benefit all school districts and, in time, change how kids eat. Meet Anna Apoian Current Title: Foodservice Director City, State: Hawthorne, Calif. Favorite School Food As a Kid: Spaghetti and garlic bread Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Comedian Someone You Admire: Susan B. Anthony Top of Your Bucket List: Help build wells and infrastructure in developing countries Hobbies: Hiking, Boy Scout leader, watching PBS Masterpiece Mystery shows They say figures don’t lie. So, consider some numbers from the Hawthorne (Calif.) School District where Anna Apoian—winner of this year’s FAME Silver Special Achievement Award—is director of foodservice. Eighty-eight percent of Hawthorne’s 9,000 students eat lunch each day at the district’s 12 schools. Ninety percent of elementary students and 80% of secondary students participate daily in breakfast. After taking over a program that was $160,000 in the red, Apoian has, since 2006, averaged yearly surpluses of $260,000. Her FAME recognition, for success in districts with enrollments under 10,000, attests that her program has not sacrificed nutrition for popularity. Lessons in Leadership What’s her secret? Apoian credits having learned much about leadership while earning a 2007 master’s degree in public administration from California State University. But, she adds, a training class she took for lay ministry at her church taught her “servant leadership.” “It means turning the traditional organization chart upside down. I’m at the bottom where I can hold my staff up.” Apoian’s approach was never more important than in 2004, her first year on the job. She inherited a 12-month work schedule that was costing the program $155,000 a year in excess labor. But by involving her employees in decisions that would affect their future—and that of the operation—she identified workable solutions to cut costs by $125,000 and gained a loyal, engaged investment by staffers. Summer hours were eliminated. But so were some part-time shifts during the school year, which meant full-timers could increase their hours. Servant leadership also emphasizes providing the tools for success. Apoian computerized ordering and inventory procedures, installed several walk-in coolers and freezers, updated service lines and increased cafeteria seating. Today, individual sites can order and track food more efficiently, store a greater variety of products and prepare higher-quality meals. And students are served more quickly and eat in a more pleasant environment. Even as Apoian sees to the big picture, her brand of servant leadership also pays attention to the little things. “I call it the Three ‘E’s,” she states. Engagement can be as simple as giving her cooks a community spotlight with their own named menu items—such as Rosita’s Cabbage Salad and Yolanda’s Cauliflower Ceviche. Education may be as simple as a daily reminder of why no job at a school is more important than feeding a child. Empowerment is found in giving cafeteria employees the independence to create special dishes for teachers and build their own connections to classrooms. Engaged Expertise Despite Apoian’s penchant for careful planning, her own career in school nutrition happened much more serendipitously. Bouncing from Massachusetts to Florida to California, she decided to settle down and apply for work—as a county sheriff. “But to take the test,” she recounts, “I had to get in shape. And that got me interested in food and nutrition.” So, Apoian went back to college, earned a 1991 Cal State degree, interned for a year and found work as nutrition supervisor for the Corona-Norco (Calif.) Unified School District. She also put her newly gained knowledge to use as a freelance writer with Fit, Fit Pregnancy and Muscle & Fitness magazines for close to a decade. After another cross-country move, to Texas, Apoian became a certified diabetes instructor—and gave birth to twin boys! Upon returning to the Golden State, she coordinated a nutrition grant project for two years and in 2004 began her current position. Along the way, Apoian notes, “SNA involvement and networking have been huge for my professional development.” With a particular interest in advocacy, she developed an outreach program to local legislators for the Southern California School Nutrition Association. “Even in a small district, you can have a big impact,” she exclaims. “Don’t think, ‘We’re too small to do very much.’ If you empower your people, together you can achieve great things!” Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/In+Profile/1670785/202873/article.html.