By Jen Lewi 2015-07-24 00:00:25
Welcome back to school! In some parts of the country, the bell has already rung, while in others, you may be taking the initial steps to prep for the hungry hordes that will soon fill your cafeterias. Regardless, this is the period to learn about what’s new for SY 2015-16. And for the last several years, each back-to-school season has brought a new set of federal requirements that affect school meals and the professionals who prep and serve them. This year is no different. By now, you should have at least heard references to the new Professional Standards rule set by USDA last spring. It went into effect in July. But maybe a reference is all you’ve heard, and you don’t yet realize how this regulation will affect you. Many school districts encourage and often require training for school nutrition staff beyond the minimal food safety protocols. After all, school nutrition is a very complex business, and individual districts often promote the value of annual continuing education to their employees as a way to stay current. Achieving and maintaining the SNA Certificate in School Nutrition is one way to do this. But under the new federal Professional Standards rule, school nutrition operations all across the country can’t simply promote and encourage annual training; now, they must require it. Additionally, new school nutrition directors must meet certain hiring requirements, based on the enrollment size of their district. At SNA Headquarters, we have received many questions about the different aspects of this important regulation, especially: “Help! What does this mean to me in my job?” We are here to help you get all the answers you need. Consider this article a start. We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions from you and your peers, and researched the answers, based on the most current information available at press time. SNA is using details published by USDA in its final rule and through recent guidance documents. It is important to note, however, that USDA may choose to update this information at any time. That’s why you also should be sure to bookmark SNA’s Professional Standards resource page on its website (www.schoolnutrition.org/professionalstandards) and check it on a regular basis. SNA will keep that page updated in real time with any changes or clarifications issued by USDA. Ready to review the what, why, when and how of Professional Standards? Let’s begin. Background Basics As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, USDA established professional standards for school nutrition personnel who administer, manage and operate the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). USDA developed these standards for a number of reasons, including: • To help school nutrition personnel stay current with the complex requirements of the federal school meals programs; • To help school nutrition personnel continue to build skills through training requirements; and • To enhance the image and reinforce the professionalism of school nutrition employees throughout the community. The final rule went into effect on July 1, 2015. USDA understands that the successful implementation of a regulation that affects thousands of schools and staff will require a transition period, especially in the first year. Thus, there are moderate differences in the requirements for SY 2015-16, versus the years going forward. We’ll details the specifics as we go through the rule. The school nutrition director is ultimately responsible for demonstrating that the entire operation—all employees at all sites—follows the rules. State agencies will monitor compliance as part of the three-year Administrative Review process. Annual Training Requirements The annual training/continuing education requirement is the part of the Professional Standards rule that affects everyone working in a school or district school meals operation. How many hours of continuing education/training do I need each year? The requirements vary by position level, but not by the size of your district. This is the primary area that has a phase-in of the rule, as detailed in the box below. Directors must complete the most continuing education hours, but even part-time staffers working less than 20 hours per week are required to log annual training. If you or any of your staff members completed training between April 1 and July 1, 2015, you may count those hours toward the SY 2015-16 training requirements. I have worked in school nutrition for a long time. Can’t I be exempt from these annual training hours? The philosophy behind the rule is that training should be ongoing, as there is always something new to learn about school nutrition, and even those who are seasoned veterans can benefit from refreshers, as well as education in new areas. What if I hire staff after the start of the school year? Must they complete the same number of hours? It depends on when your employee actually starts. Anyone—at any level—who is hired after January 1 is only required to complete half of the required training hours for their position by the end of that school year. If they are hired before January 1, however, they must complete all the hours. My title isn’t “director,” “manager” or “staff.” How do I know which category I fit in? Titles vary quite a bit across the country. Check the position descriptions for each category in the rule to find the one that relates most closely to your job responsibilities. You can find links about these descriptions at www.schoolnutrition.org/professionalstandards. Or check with your state agency for more clarification. Does the training requirement apply to office administrative staff? Yes, it does apply to office staff who work on NSLP/SBP-related activities throughout the school year. However, office staff members who simply process meal applications at the start of the school year or provide other short-term/temporary support for the school nutrition operation are exempt from the rule. Does any type of adult education count? There are four key areas for school nutrition training: Nutrition Operations Administration Communications/Marketing USDA has indicated that training can be received in any, some or all of these areas. Do these key learning areas sound familiar? They should, because they were based on SNA’s Keys to Excellence program! SNA’s professional development programming is built upon these four areas, and you’ll find more details about how SNA can help you meet the requirements on page 58. These categories are fairly broad. Are there specific topic areas within each category that are required? The final rule does not establish requirements for specific training topics, such as menu crediting for reimbursable meals or food safety procedures. However, in its final rule, USDA lists suggested topics for each position level (staff, managers, directors) in the district/school. In addition, a grid of training topic categories and subcategories has been developed for each of the four key areas. The most important consideration is to ensure that the training is relevant to the person’s job or the next role the individual is working toward. But employees should always seek guidance from a supervisor before taking a specific course to meet the Professional Standards requirements. Note: It’s possible that in the future, USDA will require specific training for various position levels. Does the training need to be presented in a specific format or by a particular provider? No. Training can be provided in a variety of formats, including online, in-person or at workshops/meetings. Training can be conducted by a number of providers, including SNA and its state affiliates, state agencies, USDA, the Institute of Child Nutrition (formerly National Food Service Management Institute) or by your own staff. Where can I find appropriate training opportunities or resources? Start with SNA, a leading provider of education resources, including articles in this magazine, as well as: • Conferences and meetings (national and state level) • Free webinars • School Nutrition University (SNU) training courses Check out www.schoolnutrition.org/education for details. USDA has created an online database featuring more than 450 specific training opportunities and resources. You can access this at http://professionalstandards.nal. usda.gov, and it includes offerings available from the Institute of Child Nutrition. Does time spent at food shows/exhibits held during state/national conferences count toward annual training hours? State agencies are given the discretion to allow a maximum of two hours of this activity to count toward the annual requirement. Check with your state agency as to whether it will allow this and the type of documentation that will be required for compliance. Education Tracking and Documentation As with any federal regulation, paperwork is a key aspect in ensuring compliance. USDA wants to make this as easy as possible, both for individual districts and for the state agency representatives conducting the Administrative Review! Copies of the following documentation are acceptable: • USDA/SNA Training/Tracking Grids • Training Agendas • Sign-in Sheets • Certificates of Completion • Other paper documents It’s a good idea for managers or supervisors to keep a folder with this type of documentation for each employee or establish another system. Both SNA and USDA have developed tracking tools to help you. At this time, USDA’s version is not required paperwork in the Administrative Review. SNA also encourages anyone overseeing training to code and categorize training into one USDA Professional Standards subcategory topic. While this is not mandatory, it is a very helpful step in both identifying and planning for training needs and documentation after the fact. See www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazine/bonuswebcontent for more details about coding. What funding is available to help support these new annual training requirements? Annual continuing education/training is an allowable use of the nonprofit school foodservice account, as well as of State Administrative Expense (SAE) funds. This means that you can use foodservice funds to hire a trainer, pay for conference or workshop registration fees and so on. I’ve contacted my state agency with some of these questions about training and documentation, but they didn’t have the answers. Given that the final rule for Professional Standards was released less than six months ago, state agencies are still waiting on USDA to issue guidance on certain aspects. Be patient. Check SchoolNutrition.org regularly for updates and try your state agency again in a few weeks. New Hiring Standards for District-Level School Nutrition Directors The new Professional Standards rule establishes hiring criteria for directors who administer the federal child nutrition programs and manage the foodservice operation. These criteria, which are focused on education/experience standards, have been established to ensure that these complex meal programs are managed by those with the appropriate skills and understanding. The standards are based on the enrollment size of the district (local education authority/LEA), which is divided into three categories: 2,499 students or fewer; 2,500-9,999 students; and 10,000+ students. The specific criteria for each category are detailed online at www.schoolnutrition.org/professionalstandards. Click on the “USDA Professional Standards Summaries” link. Directors who were hired before July 1, 2015, will be grandfathered into their current positions, which means they do not need to meet the hiring requirements in order to stay in their present position at their district/school. My level of education doesn’t meet the new standards for my current position. What does this mean? You can continue to serve in your current position. I am considering a director position at another district that is in the same size category as my current district. “Grandfathered directors” can transfer to another position in an LEA that is in the same size category. However, to make the move to a larger school district, you will have to comply with the new hiring standards for that larger LEA. I am an assistant director in my district, and I am expected to be promoted when the current director retires in the next year. I do not meet the education criteria, however. Now what? The rule does not address such a uniquely specific scenario. Check with your state agency to discuss the matter. I work for one district, but have taken on contracts to administer the school nutrition program at one or more additional districts in the area. The combined enrollment is in a different category than the district that hired me and I don’t meet the educational requirement for that category. Will I have to drop the other programs? If you already have the contracts, then you are grandfathered in at the higher total enrollment. However, if you are considering adding a new contract you will likely be required to meet the criteria for the higher enrollment. Check with your state agency for guidance applicable to this specific scenario. Twin Tracks: SNA & USDA There has never been a better time for you to participate in SNA’s professional development programming to invest in your continual education and growth. Earning your Certificate in School Nutrition or the School Nutrition Specialist (SNS) credential are great ways to stay on track to not only achieve, but exceed the minimum requirements for professional standards. SNA has aligned its professional development resources even more closely with USDA’s rules to provide its members with a seamless approach. For example, effective July 1, 2015: • 1 SNA Continuing Education Unit (CEU) equals 1 hour of training for USDA’s Professional Standards. • The CEU requirements for renewing SNA’s Certificate in School Nutrition are based on membership type to align with Professional Standards. Are you one of the 20,000+ SNA members who have earned a Certificate in School Nutrition? You are in good company and in good shape to meet the annual training hours required by USDA. When you complete annual training hours for professional standards, these apply to SNA’s Certificate program and vice versa. • The designated To Your Credit (professional development) article in each School Nutrition magazine continues to be worth 1 CEU and complies with USDA’s identified professional standards topic areas. The To Your Credit test also has been coded to help you track your training. In addition, SNA has reviewed previously published To Your Credit articles and tests to organize the online archives by Key Areas. • The SNS Exam tests knowledge in the four key areas of the Professional Standards rule, with a focus on nine content areas. Earning your SNS demonstrates that you have the knowledge and competencies to manage and administer school nutrition programs and understand the commitment of ongoing professional development. SNA encourages SNS-credentialed professionals to earn 15 CEUs per year; this will allow you to complete your professional standards annual training hours, as well as your credentialing maintenance requirements for renewal (45 CEUs over three years), all at the same time. SNA’s commitment to being your best professional development resource doesn’t end here! Professional Development is one of the four key goal areas of SNA’s Strategic Plan, and we are working on different initiatives to help members not only meet the requirements of the new regulation, but truly achieve its goals. But we need your feedback! Within a few weeks of this article’s publication, we’ll be sending an electronic survey to SNA members regarding education needs and preferences. When you receive it, please take a few minutes to respond. Your input is essential in ensuring we deliver the programs and services you need. Jennifer Lewi is an SNA staff vice president responsible for membership, marketing and professional development. Photography by jiunlimited.com. Everything you need to know about USDA’s new Professional Standards requirements and how they will affect your job and future in school nutrition. SNA: YOUR PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS RESOURCE Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/professionalstandards as your one-stop shop for all the details you need to understand and implement the new federal regulation. You will find: • Summaries of the standards for hiring and continuing education • FAQs • USDA learning topics and objectives • SNA’s online tracking tool • Links to USDA resources • Regular updates as available from USDA District directors and individual providers of training should be sure to download SNA’s Professional Standards Training Guidelines document, developed to help SNA members and SNA state affiliates develop and offer training in accordance with USDA’s Learning Objectives and Professional Standards Codes. BONUS WEB CONTENT USDA has provided a list of topics and learning objectives that have been coded in each of the four key education areas to help districts develop a training plan for staff, as well as assist with documentation. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazine/bonuswebcontent to learn how to “crack the codes” and use this resource effectively. TO YOUR CREDIT: For CEUs toward SNA certification, complete the “To Your Credit” test on page 68.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.