By Patrick White 2017-06-15 10:06:06
Are you taking advantage of manager development programs offered outside of your district? In baseball, the person who heads up each team is called a manager, rather than a coach. In part, that’s a nod to history. Managers used to be players, as well; their job wasn’t simply to teach (coach) others, they were actual members of the team chosen to help lead (manage) their fellow teammates. That’s a lot like the role played by managers in school nutrition programs—they work on the frontlines as part of a kitchen staff, but they must also lead that staff and ensure that the whole organization operates the way it should. In both baseball and in school kitchens, a winning manager needs administrative acumen, the ability to communicate with people and a genuine knowledge of all the individual jobs being performed under their direction. It’s a unique and demanding role, and it requires a special set of skills—skills not reliably covered in basic foodservice workshops. Fortunately, there are substantive opportunities (more than just an after-school training session here or there) available for managers to learn these skills and develop as professionals. “School Nutrition: Generation Next,” on page 38, offers suggestions for designing a comprehensive manager training program within your own district. But that internal approach isn’t the only one available to you, if you have promising candidates to develop. School Nutrition took a look into three external programs offered, in various ways, through the state government. We gathered reflections and endorsements from district directors who have taken advantage of these opportunities personally or in pursuit of cultivating a team of qualified leaders. WHO HAS THE RIGHT STUFF? Unsurprisingly, professional development programs designed exclusively for K-12 school nutrition managers tend to attract a lot of interest; and, thus, there are usually limited spots available. Directors must be selective in determining which of their managers to send. But how do you identify those who most warrant the investment of this type of training? “You can see that spark,” insists Amy Stanley, school nutrition director at Bladen County (N.C.) Schools. When there are limited spots, such as for the three-day Culinary Institute for Managers held each summer in North Carolina, those who display that spark tend to be the first to respond, she reports. “I have to be careful and open it up to everybody, but you always know those who are serious.” Watching who steps forward to take advantage of these opportunities can be one way of identifying future leaders. Rowan-Salisbury (N.C.) School System also sends its managers to the state’s Culinary Institute for Managers. School Nutrition Supervisor Lisa Altmann, SNS, says that an effort is made to select managers from district schools that offer a range of different meal programs. For example, for this year’s Institute, “We chose one manager who is running a Smart Lunch program and we have another manager who has a supper program,” she explains. Remaining spots go to those perceived to be most likely to take advantage of the educational opportunity. “We have three newer managers who are real crackerjacks—they just love learning things,” cites Altmann. When it comes to selecting which employees should apply to the very popular, 10-session Region 4 ESC Child Nutrition Manager Academy in Texas, Dani Sheffield, executive director of child nutrition services with Aldine Independent School District, starts by seeking nominations from her supervisors. The application to this particular program includes a short essay by the manager candidates explaining their career intentions and why they would like to participate in the Academy. “We look at those, too, to see who communicates their intentions well and seems to be really interested,” Sheffield adds. The Academy (like most of the others described in this article) is free of charge to the district. But the education provided is deemed so valuable that Sheffield says, “We would pay for it if there was a charge.” Mary Harryman, child nutrition director with Pasadena (Texas) Independent School District, has been on the steering committee for the Region 4 ESC’s Child Nutrition Manager Academy since its beginning. Over the last 10 years, about 35 managers from her district (which has 65 school sites) have been accepted to and completed the Academy training. At first, Harryman focused on sending managers who had many years of job experience, but who had never received this level of formal, offsite training. “They had never gotten the ideas, the networking or the sense of community that that the Academy provides,” she explains. Now that the veterans have had the chance to attend, Harryman focuses on nominating newer managers on her team. While Harryman says “I would love to send everybody,” managers are selected based “on their experience, their needs and their performance,” she explains. Those selected typically have one or two years of managerial experience. “We’re not sending brand-new managers who have just been promoted, because they’re just getting their feet wet in their schools. I’m not even sure they would feel comfortable being out of the school that many days,” she notes. Gail Koutroubas is director of food and nutrition services with Andover (Mass.) Public Schools and Northeast Regional Director on the SNA Board of Directors. She has sent many managers over the years to a three-day management program conducted by the John C. Stalker Institute, which exclusively focuses on offering professional development programs for child nutrition professionals throughout Massachusetts. “When I have a new manager, I send them to this manager’s training in the summer—it’s great for someone who either wants to move up the ladder someday or who just needs to know the basics of being a manager,” Koutroubas explains. There is a modest $250 fee, per person, to participate in the Stalker Institute program; Andover covers this cost. Koutroubas makes her selection of participants based on the level of interest she sees among her managers, as well as how they run their kitchens. “If I feel there’s a weakness somewhere, and I think the Institute could help them, I would certainly send them,” she notes. “If they’re weak on paperwork, for example. Or maybe they’re great cooks and great at getting the meals out, but they’re having trouble managing the people in their building. Or they don’t really understand the regulations of school nutrition. This a great opportunity for them to get the whole picture.” THE RESULTS ARE IN While the content being covered is crucial, Koutroubas feels that one of the most important, and overlooked, benefits of sending managers to this type of external, comprehensive training program is the opportunity they receive to network with peers at their job level. It gives them a chance to see just how far the school nutrition segment extends beyond the walls of their own building, “and it certainly boosts their professionalism,” she emphasizes. “They see the broader picture, and they see that other managers are having the same struggles.” Koutroubas says that when cafeteria managers receive comprehensive training, it helps them not only to better understand their own job, but also comprehend the role of the school nutrition director. “They can understand what challenges we face, from a budgetary perspective or staffing and those types of things. So, they can understand why we make some of the decisions that we make,” Koutroubas asserts. “When someone else tells them, it just seems to sink in better.” In North Carolina, Amy Stanley sends aspiring managers to a two-day training conducted by the state agency each year just prior to the SNA of North Carolina’s annual conference. “This year we have four employees who are not currently managers, but who would like to be,” she explains. “They come back with a better understanding of the program; they see it from a different perspective; they know it’s not just about fixing the meals and putting them out. They learn more about the rules and regulations, the production records, the daily reports and the duties of a manager. It has been a tremendous help.” Stanley finds this is especially useful knowledge for staff members who have a background in restaurant operations but may be new to managing a school kitchen. Stanley is equally gratified by the enthusiastic response of her current managers who participate in the longer Culinary Institute for Managers. “It was a huge confidence booster for them,” she says of last year’s attendees. “They came back feeling important; they learned a lot and it ignited a different sense about wanting to try new things—seeing that it was okay to try new things. It was really an awesome experience.” Like Koutroubas, Stanley sees a huge value in the peer networking that happens at the Culinary Institute. “For them to get to be one-on-one with other managers? It gave them a wonderful time for collaboration…. They came back with a sense of pride in their position,” she reports. In Texas, Aldine is a large enough district that it has its own program for training managers. Still, Dani Sheffield is a fan of how the Region 4 ESC Child Nutrition Manager Academy provides school nutrition managers with a bigger-picture context. “We want them to know our policies and procedures, obviously, but this gives them a broader perspective. They may see something new that they would like to implement,” Sheffield relates. She says the experience pays off in other ways, as well. “I see them come back with a lot of self-confidence and enthusiasm—you see a lot of growth in them.” Mary Harryman echoes that observation, reporting that the most noticeable change she sees in her own managers who complete the Academy is a boost in confidence in their own abilities: “It pushes them outside of their comfort zone. They have to talk, they have to participate in class, and they find their voice,” she explains. Considering how many cafeteria managers “can get used to being invisible,” this type of high-level professional development program makes them “realize that they’re professionals and they have a lot to share, not only with their peers there but also those back in the schools.” FIND IT OR BUILD IT Don’t live in Massachusetts, North Carolina or Texas? Don’t despair. There are many similar school nutrition training programs all over the country. Even if there isn’t one in your neck of the woods, consider banding together with other area directors to establish this type of opportunity through the state association, a large group of local chapters or even among purchasing cooperative members. Content and instruction could be developed in partnership with a local community college—remember that this type of training can and should go beyond the nuts and bolts of school nutrition and focus on broader topics, such as leadership, communications, human resources and so on. Head to the web to search for online courses that focus on building these skills. Refer back to the program guides from past Annual National Conferences to review education session descriptions and find speakers. As for those school nutrition-specific areas? Maybe you can arrange to bring in experts from your state agency to provide detailed technical information on regulations. Is there a culinary arts program in your high school? The instructors might be willing to share their expertise with an older audience, instead of the teens they typically teach. Also, look to the Institute of Child Nutrition, which offers free “face-to-face” trainings at school sites around the country. A good place to start in your research is to check out SN’s online extras this month, which include a detailed look at the programming of each of the three manager training institutes described in this article. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. Developing—not just training—the next generation of school nutrition leaders requires an investment of time and money. And both are often in short supply in a school nutrition operation. But consider the potential return on that investment: engaged professionals, fewer mistakes, a spirit of innovation and problem solving, retention in key roles, a higher profile in the community—the list goes on. Can you afford not to seize such opportunities? BONUS WEB CONTENT Management Material Head online to learn more details about the manager development programs offered by the John C. Stalker Institute in Massachusetts; the School Nutrition Manager Leadership Workshop and Culinary Institute for Managers in North Carolina; and the Region 4 ESC Child Nutrition Manager Academy in Texas. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. Patrick White is a freelance writer based in Middlesex, Vt., and a former assistant editor of this publication.
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