By Kelsey Casselbury 2014-10-03 11:26:45
Learn what SNA’s online assessment tool can do for your K-12 foodservice operation. School nutrition terms such as “free/ reduced ratio,” “meal pattern” and “HACCP” probably come tripping off your tongue. But if business jargon such as “key performance indicators,” “benchmarking” and “core competencies” sound like a completely foreign language to you, then it’s probably time to take a crash course in one of SNA’s most valuable new resources: Keys to Excellence: School Nutrition Benchmarking, Business Planning and Best Practices. Learn how this comprehensive, state-of-the-art self-assessment tool for district directors/supervisors can help you improve your K-12 school meals operation. School Nutrition interviewed a number of SNA members who already have taken steps to complete the online self-assessment tool and use the resulting data to start identifying and making useful changes in their programs. While there are time challenges related to answering the 125+-question profile, these same members report that muscling through the process earns a bevy of benefits at the end. With a little bit of effort and commitment, you can realize these same rewards. Program Primer At its core, SNA’s Keys to Excellence is simply a comparison tool that allows you to determine your program’s overall strengths, as well as specific areas in which you could improve. The assessment is divided into four key areas: Operations; Nutrition, Nutrition Education and Physical Activity; Administration; and Marketing and Communication. Each section features a number of national standards that indicate achievement. Let’s drill down to show you just one example. Under the Operations Key Area, you will find a “Key Topic” for “Food Defense.” One “Key Achievement” for this section (highlighted in orange on your screen) is: “An environment for safe and secure food and worker safety is maintained.” Now, how do you measure this objectively? Keys to Excellence guides you through a number of best practices and indicators. In this example, one best practice is: “School nutrition program personnel follow strict food safety and food defense practices.” A few of the specific and measurable indicators for this best practice include: • A copy of each school’s Food Safety Plan, as well as state and local sanitation and food safety regulations, is on file in the district office and at each school site. • All school nutrition personnel attend trainings to update their knowledge of safe food handling practices. • At minimum, the onsite manager is certified in food safety through a recognized training program. • Emergency procedures and practices for food recalls and foodborne illnesses are developed, maintained, reviewed and update regularly. How many of these indicators does your operation meet? Maybe there are some in which your department has a higher standard (perhaps all food handlers at serving sites must be certified in food safety). But maybe there are others for which your team could stand some improvement. Keys to Excellence doesn’t overlook any area of the complex school nutrition business—but this is what makes it such a useful tool. While you may be concentrating on meeting the new meal pattern standards and keeping costs down, your Three Year Administrative Review by the state agency is going to examine all aspects of your operation. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Well before your state review, you will able to use Keys to compare performance data against national standards, personal standards, other districts in the same geographic region and/or of similar size or demographics, national averages and other benchmarks. You can instantly download customized charts displaying the data, which you can take to principals, superintendents, school boards and other people or groups interested in your operation. At a recent Minnesota School Nutrition Association conference, Foodservice Director Sherri Knutson, SNS, Rochester (Minn.) School District, and Supervisor Mary Fish, Anoka-Hennepin (Minn.) School District, were part of a team that presented an education session about Keys to Excellence. “Most of [the attendees] were quite shocked at the information that will be available at their fingertips,” Knutson reports. “The fact that the graphs and numerical data are already done for you in such a nice presentation had most people so pleasantly surprised.” Putting the Data to Use All across the country, early adopters of the Keys tool report that the results and data generated by using Keys are instantly useful and applicable. “We [didn’t score] as well as we would like in the nutrition education area,” Knutson admits. “The data is saying, ‘Oh, you need to look at this, and you need to figure out how to work with the curriculum in your school district.’” She began brainstorming ideas about how to use the staff dietitians to work with the teachers on health education initiatives. When Gay Anderson, child nutrition director for Brandon Valley School District 49-2 in Brandon, S.D., reviewed her assessment, she knew she needed to make changes in menu planning. “The results convinced me that I needed to do cycle menus,” she explains, “because then my staff would be more familiar with [the menus] and it would change some of my buying needs.” She’s also found that Keys to Excellence will help her with budgeting. Vicki Hoffman, nutrition services director, Wichita (Kan.) Unified School District, found the data indicated her staff could improve in emergency preparedness, as well as expand their social marketing efforts. At first glance, the online questionnaire might look challenging to complete—but don’t be intimidated. You have the answers, you simply need to invest some time to gather all the details together. Lynne Duda, nutrition services director, North Marion School District, Aurora, Ore., is a big fan of the resources SNA has provided to streamline the effort, including a Tip Sheet and Quick Start Guide. When referencing these, “People should not have an issue knowing what information they need,” she asserts. Knutson also recommends checking in with key staff members, such as managers, so you have verification that the protocols that you think your team are following are actually being done. In fact, the investment of time now will become a big advantage in the future. Duda laments the past legwork required to gather operational data for comparison that’s now generated instantly with Keys. “Now it is all in one spot, and even has slides. What a time-saver!” Both Duda and Anderson report that they certainly plan to showcase their Keys results in front of their respective school boards, as well as in budget presentations and, for Duda, during monthly meetings with the superintendent. “I’m more excited that, above everything else, I can take [the results] to my school district and compare wages, food costs and benefits. Maybe we need to bump up some salaries based on national averages,” Anderson says. “Maybe I want to be able to toot my own horn and say, ‘Look at how I succeeded in these areas.’ They want to see those numbers.” Looking Toward the Future As time passes, early adopters of Keys to Excellence hope that others will log on and complete the profile. “The more people that use the tool, the more helpful it will be to everyone,” Hoffman notes. The current lack of participating districts means the tool can’t be used to its maximum effect, particularly in providing those intriguing comparisons that are based on geography or similar demographic criteria. But the beauty of the tool is not just in the ability to make comparisons with other districts, but to follow a year-to-year tracking of your own program. “I think it will be interesting to compare more than one year’s data,” Knutson says. “To compare three years’ data to see what happens [with] participation, revenues and expenses.” [Editors’ Note: For more reflections on the value of using data to drive decisions in school nutrition operations, see “Get Into the Numbers Game” on page 26.] What are you waiting for? With benefits that can’t be beat, aren’t you ready to join those colleagues who have already discovered the benefits of Keys to Excellence? The Keys platform will be closed between September 15 and early October in order to close out SY 2012-13 data and then allow participants to begin inputting SY 2013-14 details. Mark your calendar to sign on to www.schoolnutrition.org/keys to begin your own district’s profile. “The more marketing we can all do with Keys to Excellence,” Knutson notes, “the more districts we’re going to be able to incentivize, so we all have more data at our fingertips.” Kelsey Casselbury is School Nutrition’s managing editor. LEARN MORE Before starting your Keys to Excellence profile, be sure to check out the online resources that can help you understand the potential this tool has to help you in your job, as well as how to make the best use of your time in completing the assessment questionnaire. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/keys to find the Quick Start User Guide, Tip Sheet and the Keys to Excellence Best Practices Document. Additionally, if you missed the “KEYS: Your Online Assessment and Benchmarking Tool” session at the 2014 Annual National Conference in Boston, you can access the Power- Point presentation online at www.tinyurl.com/keystoexcellence.
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