By Mark Ward, Sr., PhD 2014-10-03 10:52:07
Passion, creative thinking and honest reflection lead two SNA award winners to big results. Meet Lauren Teng “It all started with a chemistry teacher,” says Lauren Teng, SNS, administrator of food and nutrition services for the Huntington Beach (Calif.) Union High School District. Today, Teng, SNA’s 2014 Outstanding Director of the Year, works with many teachers to integrate nutrition education across the entire curriculum. “But it all started,” she recounts, “when a chemistry teacher told me that talking about food really piques students’ interest.” This creative educator has directed students to test the acidity of orange juice—or to burn a bowl of potato chips to discover the carbon content. “From there,” Teng continues, “we made lesson kits that incorporated elements of nutrition education for all the science teachers.” Next up were the district’s English teachers, who found that nutrition topics proved popular subjects for student essays. “Then for history,” Teng adds, “we’ve devised lesson plans to explain how wars have been fought over lands, crops and food supplies.” Students taking instruction in their native language have been asked to research their own food cultures. “And in math,” she notes, “students enjoy breaking down food labels according to calories and nutrient values.” Finally, to assess the effectiveness of this instruction, students are pre- and post-tested about their nutritional knowledge. “It’s exciting to see how students come through the curriculum and acquire at least the basics of good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle,” she reports. Educate and Engage While Teng and her team serve some 16,000 high school students at nine sites, their influence extends off campus. “As we ramped up our nutrition education efforts,” she explains, “it became clear that it really needs to start before high school.” For that reason, Teng has collaborated with three nearby elementary school districts to create nutrition education resources for cafeterias, classrooms and parents. Associated activities have ranged from taste testing and tea parties to an innovative Nutrition Olympics. Over the past 15 years, Teng has applied for and received more than $2.2 million in grants to integrate nutrition education into her own and surrounding districts. To date, all these initiatives have reached more than 20,000 students and 800 teachers. Teng carries her passion and innovative spirit far beyond her corner of California, where she serves as the current president of the Southern California School Nutrition Association. Through cultural exchange trips arranged at her own expense, Teng has shared her expertise with schools and government agencies around the globe. Perseverance Pays Off She probably didn’t envision the potential reach of her influence when she joined the Huntington Beach district 28 years ago. Back then, the program was losing $100,000 a year. As the newly hired director, Teng was given a mandate: Show a surplus within six months or be shown the door. By the deadline, Teng had generated that surplus—of $10,000. Today, her annual budget is $3.5 million, with healthy surpluses that are reinvested in program improvements. “When I first came here,” Teng recalls, “we offered one entree per day, usually a casserole dish. Now we offer 20 restaurantstyle entr ees per day.” She’s modernized cafeterias (turning them into mall-style food courts), installed salad bars, opened a campus coffee house (called “Java the Hut”), organized theme lunches (ranging from barbecue to Hawaiian luaus) and purchased mobile carts that take food to areas where students congregate. As a result, 57% of students in this affluent seaside district choose to eat on campus. A southern California native, Teng worked in the school cafeteria as a youth and stayed in foodservice during a stint at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park. A biochemistry class prompted her to major in dietetics and food administration at California State University, Long Beach. After graduation, she opted to start in school nutrition, working her way up from operations supervisor to director at two smaller districts, before taking her current position in 1986. “I still enjoy the fast pace, the variety, the business aspects and the chance to work with so many people,” Teng declares. “My advice to new directors is: Be passionate, be active in your networking—and don’t be afraid to ask questions!” Current Title: Administrator of Food and Nutrition Services City, State: Huntington Beach, Calif. Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Entertainment contract attorney Bedside Book/Magazine: Condé Nast Traveler and Frommer’s Trip Advisor “on my iPad!” Dream Dinner Guest: Jacques Cousteau Top of Your Bucket List: Learn to scuba dive and swim with manta rays Hobbies: Music, snorkeling, travel, bargain shopping Meet Stacy Sagowitz After 20 years in school nutrition roles, Stacy Sagowitz, SNS, decided in 2000 to start a business of her own. Her title certainly sounded impressive: president of School Nutrition Services. But the reality was 16-hour days, working out of her home in Irvine, Calif., scrambling for clients and not knowing what lay ahead from one month to the next. Today, School Nutrition Services is a prosperous enterprise that employs 10 professionals. As Southern California’s exclusive distributor of SFSPac Food and Safety Sanitation products, the company serves more than 700 schools with a total enrollment of half a million students. In addition, Sagowitz has consulted for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California Department of Education and some of the nation’s leading food companies. By any measure—including her recent recognition as 2014 SNA Industry Member of the Year—Sagowitz is successful. “But even now,” she says, “I constantly have to ask myself questions and keep learning new things about myself.” In her early years as an independent entrepreneur, the challenge was simple. “I had to go and get as many accounts as I could,” Sagowitz recalls. But as business picked up, a different challenge emerged. “Am I comfortable, or do I want to grow? You have to balance the desire for more revenue with a commitment to maintaining service. How much can you handle?” she reflects. Down to Business Sagowitz says she sees her role as “an educator and trainer to the directors I serve, their staffs and my fellow industry members across the country.” Through her work as a distributor for SFSPac, she provides food safety and sanitation training for districts across Southern California. And as a consultant, she has helped leading food manufacturers train their K-12 sales forces. With that kind of workload, a second challenge in growing her business was creating a team. “Being a control freak, it was hard—and it still is—to let go. I’ve had to be honest about myself and hire people who are strong where I’m weak,” Sagowitz admits. One her first hires was a full-time administrative assistant. “She does all the internal tasks, which frees me up for what I do best, which is training.” Sagowitz has learned to apply other lessons about her strengths and weaknesses. “I know the pressures of being a school nutrition director—having done the job at two different districts. But I’ve had to admit that, as I’ve gotten older, I’m not as cut out for work that requires patience and repetition,” she concedes. “So, I have an operations manager and service technicians who work with our school districts on a continuing basis. That lets me focus on starting up new accounts and doing acts of service that give something back to our profession.” Such acts include numerous roles with the California School Nutrition Association, the Southern California School Nutrition Association and the School Nutrition Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Plus, on a personal level, Sagowitz strives to “be a ‘go to’ resource and confidante for any director—including those questions you’re afraid to ask!” Vital Values There’s been a third challenge that Sagowitz has faced in growing her team: “You want to employ people who share the core values of your company,” she explains. “That means you have to figure out what are your values?” She took a step back to spend more time “on” her business rather than “in” her business. To that end, she joined the Women Presidents Organization (WPO), which proved to be a turning point. “With the advice of peers,” Sagowitz reports, “I’ve written a values statement and put together 3- and 10-year strategic plans.” Her most recent challenge, though, is arguably the most difficult. “I’ve had to learn to stop working 24/7—including weekends— and knock off by 6 [p.m.],” Sagowitz confides. “But after 35 years in the profession, I’m still as passionate about school nutrition as ever!” Current Title: President and Proprietor Company: School Nutrition Services Favorite School Food As a Kid: Macaroni and Cheese Profession You’d Choose If Not School Nutrition: Law Bedside Book/Magazine: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan Dream Dinner Guest: Lucille Ball Top of Your Bucket List: “Go on a safari with my daughters” Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas.
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