Management Programs: In-Depth

As a part of SN’s exploration of The Next Generation of school nutrition directors, supervisors, and managers, the 2017 June/July issue takes a look as some distinguished, comprehensive professional development programs. Written by Patrick White, freelance writer for the publication, “Management Material” covers several such programs and their benefits to employers and employees alike in addition to how easy it might be to find and implement such opportunities for your staff. In this online extra, read about the three programs mentioned in White’s piece (The John C. Stalker Institute in Massachusetts, the School Nutrition Manager Leadership Workshop in North Carolina and The Child Nutrition Manager Academy in Texas) and exactly what each program entails.

The John C. Stalker Institute

Nearly 30 years ago, the John C. Stalker Institute (johnstalkerinstitute.org) was founded to serve as a “creative entity and force to lead Massachusetts school and child nutrition professionals in forward thinking, growth, education, and development.” The Institute is based at Framingham State College, so it’s able to offer advanced educational opportunities, such as a master’s degree in nutrition education and online graduate courses. There’s also a wide variety of professional development programs conducted throughout the year, including a three-day “Management Institute,” held on the Framingham campus each August and designed specifically for school nutrition managers.

“To have an opportunity to do three full days of training is probably one of the unique things about taking part in this program,” says Karen McGrail, instructor of Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University and director of the Stalker Institute. “We certainly provide other professional development opportunities for managers, but this one really allows them to come together as a group and build on where they are.” Attendees range from seasoned school nutrition employees who have worked themselves up into a management position to managers completely new to the profession. “Directors send them just to give them a higher level of professional development, and to strengthen their leadership skills,” she states.

The content is both broader and more detailed than what can be covered in a typical afternoon or even full-day workshop. For example, the first day begins not only by covering the history of school nutrition programs but also delving into what it means to be a leader and different leadership styles. “It sets the framework for the role that they want to play within their programs,” says McGrail. The remainder of the first day focuses on creating a positive culture within the school kitchen. “That really helps them to work through some of the challenges that they may have in their programs and to figure out ways to handle those challenges through positive communication,” she explains. Because trainings tend to focus on technical rather than interpersonal aspects of the job, this is a rare opportunity to hear what other managers are dealing with and to get concrete advice on handling these types of situations. “It’s very empowering for the managers,” says McGrail.

The second day of the Management Institute is devoted almost entirely to the concept of “cost effectiveness for managers.” This includes cost controlling and accounting, in addition to revenue and expenses—“everything that they, as managers, need to have their heads wrapped around from a financial standpoint,” says McGrail. It sounds like dry content, but it’s critical information for managers to know, she says, adding that some may feel a little intimidated in the beginning, but the way it is presented helps them to leave feeling very confident by the end.

The final day covers nutrition basics. “Then we shift into connecting that to healthy weights for kids and how school meals and all the nutrition regulations are helping to, hopefully, combat the obesity epidemic that we currently have,” says McGrail. The Management Institute wraps up with more work on improving communication skills before a final celebration and presentation of certificates. “The managers leave feeling like, ‘Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever had this kind of experience before,’” she says, adding that it’s rewarding to see the personal and professional growth that takes place in the managers over the three-day program.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Each year, immediately before the School Nutrition Association of North Carolina’s annual conference, the state agency conducts an intensive two-day School Nutrition Manager Leadership Workshop. “We do it as a pre-conference program because many managers are attending that conference anyhow,” explains Susan Thompson, lead consultant with North Carolina’s Continuing Education and Resource Development Unit, School Nutrition Services. “The directors usually recommend them to come, and we try to target new and aspiring managers; if they’ve been a manager for more than about two years, this is probably not the course for them.”

The manager leadership workshop covers “the basics,” says Thompson—the general history of school nutrition programs, a specific review of the current national school lunch, breakfast and snack programs, etc. There’s also a segment on leadership skills and communication. “Then we go into meal patterns and offer vs. serve, smart snacks and our North Carolina competitive foods rules. We touch on professional standards and the required number of professional standards hours needed for managers every year. We do a little bit on what to expect from an administrative review at the school level…because that might put them at ease to know, in advance, what they should prepare for,” she explains. Work schedules, inventory management and food ordering are among the other topics covered. “It’s a pretty packed agenda!” says Thompson.

The manager leadership workshop is not the only opportunity for school nutrition managers in the state—there’s also a three-day Culinary Institute for Managers that started last year and is held at various locations around the state during the summers. “It starts out with good, basic culinary skills, like knife skills,” says Thompson. “Then we actually prepare recipes that have been developed specifically for our Culinary Institute.” The managers are divided into teams and the meals they make are critiqued. “We also talk about appropriate staffing and meals per labor hour, work schedules, and working smarter not harder—tips for efficiency in the kitchen,” she explains. Merchandising and professionalism are other topics covered.

Those who attend leave with knives, cutting boards, merchandising trays and other tools to help them train others in their kitchens in culinary skills. “One thing we stress is that we expect them to ‘teach it forward,’” says Thompson.

She emphasizes that there’s a lot of excitement among those selected to attend the Culinary Institute: “It’s a longer program [that typical trainings], it’s more hands-on, it’s more involved…for some of our sessions, we have a waiting list for managers to get in.”

Region 4 ESC Texas Child Nutrition Manager Academy

In the late 1960s, partly because of the massive size of the state and the difficulty in serving it all through one office, the Texas legislature created 20 “education service centers” (ESCs) spread out in various regions, all given a mission to “assist school districts and charter schools in improving efficiencies and student performance.” The professional development programs and services that these ESCs provide today include every aspect of education and school operations, including school nutrition.

In Region 4, which encompasses Houston and surrounding areas (and roughly 50 school districts totaling more than 1 million students), has developed one specialized professional development program aimed at meeting the needs of school nutrition managers. Its Child Nutrition Manager Academy was started in 2005 when the school nutrition directors there voiced the opinion that, while there was training for directors and supervisors, “their staff managing the school sites really needed more training on how to manage, and how develop their own managerial skills,” explains Nancy Barlow, education specialist for the child nutrition department within the Region 4 ESC.

Region 4 child nutrition department staff brainstormed with the directors to find out specifically what they would like their manager candidates to learn about. That content is refined every year and the topics covered are also based on the Institute for Child Nutrition (formerly NFSMI) criteria for school nutrition managers.

The Child Nutrition Manager Academy is a big commitment; it begins in early summer and runs through the following March. “It’s 10 sessions, and those who attend earn 60 hours of credit,” says Barlow. It’s also a highly sought-after program. “There is an application process; we send out the applications every April to all of the districts. The directors nominate staff and the requirement is that those who attend need to have at least one year of foodservice experience (an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can be substituted for this) and be currently managing, or have the potential to manage, frontline foodservice staff,” she explains. And as part of the application, candidates need to explain why they want to attend and what they hope to get out of it. Depending on their size, districts are allowed to send from one to four applications. About 46 candidates are accepted every year; any more than that and training becomes difficult, says Barlow. “We’ve never had a year where we have not had to turn away people,” she adds.

The opening (and mandatory) four-day session begins with assessments, “because the entire Academy is about them discovering where they are, where they want to be and what they need to do to get there,” says Barlow. The assessment looks at managerial styles and includes personality evaluations. The managers at the Academy know how to cook already, and they typically know more about how a school nutrition kitchen works—“that’s why they’re managers,” she points out. What they need to know is how to look at the big picture, how to manage people. “It’s all about their own personal development,” she states.

Subsequent sessions are held in different districts, which helps give the managers exposure to different schools and different levels, from elementary through high school. “Being out of their own district, they can get ideas that they can take back with them,” says Barlow. Each session builds on the last, and after each there is homework that the managers must complete to demonstrate the skills they have learned. The curriculum, which covers everything from technical school nutrition topics to more general communication skills, is all included in a project book that the managers follow throughout.

This year will mark the twelfth managers class to graduate—and it is a graduation, complete with cap and gown and a reception. “It’s a very big event…for many of our managers, that is the only graduation they’ve ever had,” says Barlow.

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