2014 Silver Plate: Sandra Ford

The Manatee County director focuses on creating dialogue with students, school administrators and foodservice workers.

Published in FSD K-12 Spotlight

When people say they are going to leave the bitter Midwest winters for the sandy beaches of Florida, oftentimes they’re joking. Sandra Ford wasn’t. After a year in which both her mother and brother died, Ford and her husband packed their bags for the Sunshine State.

In 2004, Ford landed the director position at Manatee County School District, where she’s been ever since. In the decade since the sojourn South, Ford has done much to revitalize the program in Manatee and helped guide the school nutrition industry during the most tumultuous time in the past 15 years.

Building trust

“When I got here it was a program that wasn’t in financial trouble, but it had more potential,” Ford says. “The biggest thing I realized when I got here was the relationship aspect of our job was really broken down. The staff didn’t trust the district-level staff. Managers were siding with the principals. There was a lot of discontent and mistrust.”

Ford spent the first couple of years alleviating this problem. That started with “show and tell,” she says. “They had to see that, No. 1, I listened to them and that we could build a working relationship and do what’s right for the kids.”

A huge factor in this relationship-building process was providing the staff with the proper training to better perform their jobs. “When I came the training was really minimal,” Ford recalls. “I wouldn’t call it training. It was I talked, you listened.” Furthermore, most training was for managers only.

Ford changed that so that every employee would receive training. She added two contracted workdays for all staff to conduct training. The addition wasn’t popular at first. “At first it was met with huge resistance because [those additional two days] were days that school wasn’t in session. After two years, my senior staff kept saying, ‘They’re not buying into this.’ I just said, ‘We need to keep doing this.’ Now, they recognize that training is a value-added [benefit] for them. It’s not always training on how to serve. It’s customer service or how to read a financial report.”

Learning how to analyze financial data has become more important in the department. Three years ago Ford started dashboards, a comparison by school of common data points, including labor, participation and overtime. Once a month that data is pooled into a district-level dashboard with data including meals per labor hour.

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