Mark Ward 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Meet two gentlemen who are blazing a path to school nutrition success. Meet Lyman Graham Given the glamorous treatment that TV chefs tend to enjoy today, it's easy to forget that in "real life," the restaurant trade is a tense and demanding business that suffers one of the independent business sector's highest failure rates. But for SNA's 2011 Outstanding Director of the Year, Lyman Graham, who directs not one but three separate school nutrition operations, dealing with tough realities is nothing new. Raised on a New Mexico ranch, he recalls, "I learned to cook because my mom was sick and I was the oldest of four children." During the economic recession of the early 1980s, "Ranching got hard," Graham recounts, "and, as a young adult, I had to do something else and started a barbeque restaurant." Once he had children of his own, he decided the strain of running a commercial foodservice operation was too great on the family. "I sold the restaurant," he says, "and did a lot of different jobs," including work as a radio broadcaster and part-time church pastor. In 1990, he took a custodial job with Dexter (N.M.) Consolidated Schools and, to help make ends meet, volunteered to wash dishes and unload the school nutrition department's commodities truck in exchange for lunch. The More, The Merrier Graham's restaurant experience came in handy when, later that same year, Dexter's school nutrition director retired, and he was asked to take the job. From the very start, Graham knew he had found his niche-and a decade later, he left to direct the school nutrition program for the larger Carlsbad (N.M.) Municipal Schools. Not far away, the Roswell (N.M.) Independent School District district was so impressed that in 2002, it made an arrangement with Carlsbad for Graham to direct both programs. Then, in 2007, the Dexter district re-entered the picture, and since Then, Graham has led all three nutrition programs-with a total of 38 schools and 17,000 students, 164 staff and combined annual budgets of $7.5 million. Moreover, Graham initiated after school snack programs in the three districts, plus summer feeding programs that in 2010 served some 174,000 meals combined. Amazingly, Graham has found time over the years to organize and chair the wellness committees of all three districts, stage school carnivals and fundraisers, cater numerous Events and conduct staff training. Plus, he has served in every office-including president- and on every committee of the New Mexico School Nutrition Association; annually attends SNA national and legislative conferences; maintains his SNA certification; and has earned professional designations as a Master Certified Food Executive (MCFE), Certified HACCP Manager (CHM) and Certified Professional Food Manager (CPFM). Whew! And he continues to preach every Sunday as pastor of the Narrow Way. For Graham, his sacred and secular callings go together. "Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep,'" he explains, "and that's the vision that motivates my work both in the schools and in the church." Golden Graham Busyness for its own sake, however, is not Graham's approach. Indeed, to check off everything on his to-do list, he strives to work smart, as well as hard. At his first job in Dexter, he ultimately Boosted student participation in the school meals program from 35% to 95% by improving food quality, adding salad bars and launching a breakfast in the classroom program. Through higher participation and by starting a catering operation, he tripled the department's annual revenues. Similarly, in 11 years, he has raised participation at Carlsbad from 15% to 97%, while boosting the annual budget from $2.1 million to $3.9 million. And participation in Roswell has soared from 41% to 80% over nine years, with the annual budget growing from $2.9 million to $4.8 million. Despite being a preacher, Graham is a man of few words when the subject is himself. "But if you put your heart in it, are willing to do any job, like being hands-on and always see the challenge to do better, you can make a difference as a director." Meet Sal Valenza When Salvatore (Sal) Valenza, foodservice director for West New York (N.J.) Schools, was interviewed by School Nutrition for this article, he began by noting how that very morning, another interesting publication had crossed his desk. It was an early fall issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine. And in it, Valenza is quoted about his work with the popular television personality and her Yum-O! Organization, in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, in developing and testing an array of healthy school recipes. Their goal was to "completely reimagine" some cafeteria classics as healthier lunchtime options, such as turning oven-roasted turkey (typically served with mashed potatoes and gravy) into Southwest Turkey Cobb Salad. And reimagining what's possible for school nutrition has been a hallmark of Valenza's tenure at West New York. Indeed, it's an outlook that helped his program become the first in the nation to earn a Gold award from the Alliance. Anger Into Action Rather than list all the initiatives his operation has launched, Valenza likes to tell a story that captures the spirit of what he, his team and the district's leadership are doing. "One day, my assistant Joe walked into my office and was visibly angry," Valenza recounts. "He hated the sight of hot dog trucks parked across the street from our high school." When his assistant asserted that the school lunch program needed a hot dog truck of its own, Valenza's imagination went into high gear. "I'd heard from a friend about 'pop-up restaurants' in California," he remembers, "and that gave me some ideas. First, maybe a taco truck would allow us to offer more nutritious alternatives to hot dogs. Second, Maybe we could 'upcycle' an old freight container into a 'pop-up' of our own. And third, maybe it could be solar-powered!" Valenza enlisted the high school's business class to develop a business plan for the project, and he hopes to debut the taco truck within the year. "It's evolving into a joint project between vendors, our business and marketing teachers and our science teachers, who can help students learn about alternative energy," he explains. "It's a great example of the collaborative spirit in the district and the autonomy I'm given to be creative." Sal's Scene Such a spirit of innovation is one reason Valenza was recognized by the New Jersey School Nutrition Association (NJSNA) as its 2011 Outstanding Director of the Year, and by SNA as the Northeast Regional winner in this category. And it's likely a factor in the positive p.r. boost he's gotten from friends in high places, like Rachael Ray. For example, his published comments about the success of the Southwest Turkey Cobb Salad recipe wasn't the only occasion Valenza was spotlighted by Ray. He and members of the West New York school nutrition team appeared in a videotaped segment shown on Ray's talk show in September, and an earlier issue of Ray's magazine spotlighted a classroom nutrition education program that his staff conducts with grant money. Other notable initiatives developed or supported by the West New York school nutrition team run the gamut from on-campus yoga and fitness classes to recycling Halloween pumpkins into harvest soup. Valenza works for a private management company, Nu-Way Concessionaires, and also oversees the school nutrition operations of three other districts in the New York metropolitan area. Fond associations of food and family time prompted him at age 15 to take a job at a local restaurant. Then, after earning a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Florida International University in Miami, he returned north to the New York City area and was hired by a management company to direct the school nutrition program at a small local school district. "I saw it as my own little restaurant," Valenza recalls, "and told myself, 'There's a lot I can do in school foodservice.'" Valenza joined Nu-Way in 2000. Through each twist on the career path, Valenza has remained passionate about close cooperation. He is co-chair of the school district's Wellness Council and serves on the executive boards of both the New Jersey Farm to School Network and NJSNA. For Valenza, achievement isn't really about the national exposure he's received. "The real secret to success," he says, "is doing things in small steps and involving a lot of people in collaboration."
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/In+Profile/921316/93141/article.html.