By Mark Ward, Sr., Ph.D. 2015-02-25 01:43:02
For two directors and state-level advocates, a career change revealed new passions. Meet Ronda McCullick Looking back on a career of more than 30 years, Ronda McCullick can neatly divide her professional life in half. A registered dietitian, she spent the first half of her career in clinical settings. “But it was always disappointing to see the consequences of poor nutrition and be able to do little about it,” she relates. Then, in 1999, she started in school nutrition and, “The chance to help prevent lifelong consequences was, for me, like being reborn,” she says. For the past 10 years, McCullick has served as director of foodservice operations for the Park Hill School District in Parkville, Mo. She took her passion for nutrition statewide, recently completing a three-year term as legislative co-chair for the Missouri School Nutrition Association (MSNA). Now, she’s gone national with her advocacy efforts and expertise, earning an appointment last July to serve on SNA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee. “Show Me” Success This Association involvement has given McCullick a front-row seat to learn “what works” when it comes to school nutrition advocacy strategies. “We all know it’s important to speak out and let our legislators know our positions,” she explains. “But it’s more than just sending letters and emails. Generating support has to be an ongoing dialogue with your state [and national] legislators. That means first building a rapport and establishing yourself as a go-to resource for them on child nutrition issues.” Doing so, McCullick continues, means making a commitment of time and effort. “Invite your representatives and their staffs to visit your cafeterias, have lunch and see up close how state and federal policies impact [your school meals operation]. Ask them to speak at local chapter meetings. If your state association has an annual Legislative Day, go to the capitol, visit their offices and review SNA positions with them.” Find ways to keep your school meal program front and center, she advises. “Just taking pictures of kids whenever you have an event or a promotion, and sending these to your legislators, can have a real impact. But again, it requires time and effort.” McCullick understands how much SNA and its state affiliates rely on the unflagging dedication of grassroots-level volunteers. “We don’t have big professional staffs and lobbyists in Missouri or other states. So it’s up to us, not only to speak out, but to keep ourselves informed so we can speak out.” To that end, McCullick makes sure to use her monthly managers meetings to update her colleagues on legislative and policy developments. In that way, she potentially multiplies her voice. Midwest Made Finding a sense of mission has been important to McCullick since she was a youngster. A native Kansan who was raised on the farm, she went on to Kansas State University, where she earned a 1983 degree in dietetics and institutional management. What ensued were 16 years mostly spent with organizations that provided diet and nutrition services for nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. Her last such stint was as a corporate clinical dietitian for the Archdiocese of Chicago. But in 1999, when the Archdiocese needed someone to head up foodservice operations for its parochial schools division, McCullick jumped at the opportunity, digging into each subsequent new challenge with enthusiasm. Upon her father’s death in 2005, McCullick decided to move closer to her Kansas-based family, and accepted her current position in Parkville, which is located in the Kansas City, Mo., metro area. She immediately embraced having a program of her own, instead of overseeing corporate management of multiple programs. Over the last decade, she has taken full advantage of this autonomy—installing onsite kitchens at all 17 schools in the district to improve food quality, renovating dining areas, scheduling monthly marketing campaigns and using more local produce purchased through farm-to-school initiatives. Despite these successful benchmarks, McCullick understands that many individual districts need greater resources to reach the “student-centered” goals they all share. She also knows that legislators hold the public purse strings and write the rules. “They won’t know our needs,” she states, “unless we tell them!” Current Title: Director of Foodservice Operations City, State: Parkville, Mo. Profession You’d Choose if not School Nutrition: Architect Bedside Book/Magazine: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson Someone You Admire: Doris Day Top of Your Bucket List: See an aurora borealis Dream Dinner Guest: Ronald Reagan Meet Chris Derico Many paths can lead to an eventual career in school nutrition. It’s not uncommon for school nutrition directors, for example, to start out in clinical nutrition and dietetics positions, or in the restaurant and hospitality trades or in classroom teaching, before finding their niche in school nutrition operations. Relatively few, however, have come from school administration. One who has, though, is Chris Derico, SNS, who earned his master’s degree in educational administration and served seven years as a high school assistant principal. “But when our superintendent moved me into a general supervisor position—and when my main duty became overseeing school nutrition—I fell in love with the difference we could make in the lives of our kids,” he recounts. For more than a decade, Derico has directed the child nutrition program for Lewis County Schools in Weston, W.Va. Not only did he adjusted well to his new duties, he also reached the top of his new profession as winner of an SNA 2014 President’s Award of Excellence for his work as 2013-14 president of the West Virginia School Nutrition Association (WVSNA). A New State of Mind “Back in 2004, I had a lot to learn about school nutrition,” Derico recalls. “But I joined SNA right away and, a couple years later, started attending WVSNA annual conferences. I’m the kind of person who’s organized and wants to do my best at anything I’m involved in. So I decided that to do my best as a school nutrition professional, I had to get progressively more involved in my association through networking, learning and sharing ideas.” Derico believes that, while his path to school nutrition is unusual, his professional background as a school administrator has been an asset. “Because I’ve been both a teacher and an assistant principal,” he explains, “I take a holistic view of the relationships between the classroom, the school office and the meal program.” Nevertheless, Derico’s promotion in SY 2004-05 was a baptism by fire. “That was a reauthorization year for the National School Lunch Program,” he explains. A mandate to devise local school wellness plans presented a challenge in many districts. “But I’m a physical fitness buff and saw it as an opportunity,” he recounts. Ten years later, the creation of healthy school environments is still a priority—one that has led to the hire of wellness coordinators at all six district schools. Mountain State Mission Program growth and efficiencies also were hallmarks of his award-winning tenure as WVSNA president. Derico and his predecessor implemented a strategic plan for the state association that, over a period of about two years, saw WVSNA membership grow from less than 100 to more than 300. One effective strategy was improving the quality of the educational offerings at state conferences. Conference workshops were developed to address member needs as they were identified in feedback collected through surveys. Industry sponsors underwrote the cost of national speakers. The National Food Service Management Institute ran a pre-conference session. Increased membership translated into increased clout at the West Virginia statehouse. At the urging of Derico and other WVSNA leaders, Gov. Earl Tomblin proclaimed May 2, 2014, as “School Lunch Hero Day.” But that’s not where Derico and his team intend to rest. “As an Association president and board member, your job is reaching out to your members and encouraging them to make contacts with their local legislators.” If Derico’s professional path to school nutrition has been unusual, his attitude about arriving at this destination is not uncommon. “While I see my professional identity in education administration,” he says, “being assigned to direct school nutrition has really opened my eyes about its importance. I had some interface with our cafeteria as an assistant principal. But now that school nutrition is my main responsibility, I’m passionate about what we do!” Current Title: General Supervisor/Child Nutrition Director City, State: Weston, W.Va. Favorite School Lunch as a Kid: Homemade hot rolls Magazine at Your Bedside: Triathlete Dream Dinner Guest: Jimmy Buffet Place You’d Like to Visit: Florida Keys Hobbies: Physical fitness, Photography Mark Ward is a freelance writer based in Victoria, Texas.
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