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.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
aquaponics produce

We partnered with a student group interested in aquaponics to build a recirculating fish tank and lettuce growing operation in our Oval Dining Center. The large tanks are stocked with tilapia that live in the water and fertilize lettuce growing in the recirculating water under grow lights. We then harvest the lettuce and use it in our operations. The unit is set up in the dining room where customers can see the science in action, learn about the process and enjoy the fresh lettuce that was just picked.

Ideas and Innovation
fridge system

We installed a remote refrigeration system as part of our cafeteria renovation. The main part of the system is located on the roof and controls all our refrigerated equipment, including the walk-in freezer and coolers, beverage refrigerator, etc. The system allows us to identify problems faster, and the elimination of individual condenser units cuts down on A/C bills as well as noise.

Industry News & Opinion

Students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor will be served student-grown produce from the campus farm at dining halls this fall, M Live reports.

The dining team received its first batch of produce from UM’s on-campus farm in June, after students received the proper USDA certification to grow, harvest and deliver food to campus dining halls. In order to figure out what produce is needed, students communicate with the dining department weekly, and Michigan Dining purchases items accordingly.

"The students are involved from seed to plate," Executive Chef Frank Turchan...

Sponsored Content
college students eating

From Ovention.

Today’s colleges and universities know they should offer more than a large selection of breakfast cereals in the morning and chicken tenders at lunch to appeal to students. When it comes to what’s trending on campuses, here’s a look at what directors can tune into to boost engagement.

1. Expanded dining hours

Late-night options have long been a popular fixture on college campuses, but if it’s too late, students often choose to venture to off-campus retailers to satisfy their cravings. According to Technomic’s 2017 College & University Consumer Trend...

FSD Resources