Joanne Kinsey: Children's Champ

Growing up, Joanne Kinsey knew she wanted to be a teacher. After four years, however, Kinsey decided teaching wasn’t the right fit for her, but she didn’t want to leave behind students and education completely. A fortuitous opening in school nutrition at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, was the start of Kinsey’s 33-year-and-counting career in school foodservice. Since then, Kinsey has touched the lives of children from North Carolina to New Hampshire and as far away as China. A sign in Kinsey’s office sums her up best: “Child nutrition is my business.”

At a Glance: Joanne Kinsey
•Director of School Nutrition Services Chesapeake Public Schools, Chesapeake, Va.
•B.S. in home economics from Mansfield (Pa.) University; Master’s in home economics from East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.
•Born in Norristown, Pa.
•Married to Thomas, a pastor; three children, Michelle, Tommy and Matthew
•Enjoys golf, reading, cooking and decorating

•Kinsey oversees 46 schools and one satellite operation that serve the district’s 40,000 students. Every school does food production on-site. Each day 5,800 breakfasts and 19,000 lunches are served daily by the 126 FTEs and more than 350 part-time school nutrition services employees.

•Since joining Chesapeake three years ago, Kinsey has increased the number of sites that offer summer feeding from six to 19, with expectations of even more locations this summer.

•Participation has increased since Kinseytook over foodservice in October 2006. Lunch participation is up 2% and breakfast is up 5%.

•One of Kinsey’s major focuses is on breakfast. She has started a breakfast program in all but eight schools.

•In 2009, Kinsey was awarded the Golden Foodservice Director of the Year Award from FAME.

•Kinsey started a principals’ focus group to help them understand the child nutrition program better.



FoodService Director - Silver Plate 2010 - Joanne Kinsey - Chesapeake Public SchoolsGrowing up, Joanne Kinsey knew she wanted to be a teacher. After four years, however, Kinsey decided teaching wasn’t the right fit for her, but she didn’t want to leave behind students and education completely. A fortuitous opening in school nutrition at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, was the start of Kinsey’s 33-year-and-counting career in school foodservice. Since then, Kinsey has touched the lives of children from North Carolina to New Hampshire and as far away as China. A sign in Kinsey’s office sums her up best: “Child nutrition is my business.”

 

“I had been teaching consumer sciences. There was an advertisement for a director of student nutrition at Camp Lejeune, the military base. I applied for that position and got it. I made the transition to child nutrition in 1976.

I was ready for change. I was disillusioned at that point with the lack of administrative support and the role of parents having too much say in discipline of children. What they wanted was not right for kids. I still had a passion for education, but I thought there had to be something different. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I grew up knowing this, so I followed that career path. I was never sorry.

The job at Camp Lejeune came at the right time. I was young and had a lot of energy. What was so nice for me was that I had wonderful mentors. I knew nothing about child nutrition. One of the state consultants from the department of education for North Carolina and the two gentlemen who ran the county schools right next to the military base took me under their wings and taught me everything that I needed to know to get me started. The staff was wonderful. I had 35 employees, and they really looked out for me. They knew I was this young woman trying to be their supervisor. With those mentors, I threw everything I had into it and got involved in SNA. I made school nutrition my job.

I stayed at Camp Lejeune for four years and then I moved to a position in Carteret County in North Carolina. It was a little bit bigger. That’s how I started my career; I just went from one place to another that was a little bit larger in size.

FoodService Director - Silver Plate 2010 - Joanne Kinsey - Chesapeake Public SchoolsI worked in Carteret County as the director of school nutrition services for almost four years and then we moved to Chesapeake, Va., for the first time. I wasn’t even really looking for full-time employment. I was raising a child. I did what I always do when I move into an area: I called up the local school nutrition office and introduced myself. When I called the school nutrition office in Chesapeake, he said, ‘Can you come over here and talk to us?’ They had a position. I said, ‘I wasn’t really even prepared to come to work, I just moved here.’ I talked with my husband, and he said, ‘Why don’t you try it?’ I was in Chesapeake from ‘85 to ‘88 and I was the supervising nutritionist. I did menu development and promotions, and the elementary schools were my responsibility.

Then we were transferred to New England. Because there weren’t any school nutrition openings, I started working for a community action agency. I oversaw adult and child care foodservice. I did consulting for Vermont and New Hampshire. I was still in school nutrition, but I did consulting and training for them for their school nutrition personnel and I oversaw the county day care until a position came open in Portsmith, N.H. They asked, ‘Would you be interested in covering this position for a year?’ I was excited to be back in school nutrition.

I then applied for a position in Nashua (N.H.) and I got that. I job-shared the Nashua position with the Portsmith position from April to the end of June. I would work two days one place and three days in the other. I stayed in Nashua for five years and then a position in Allentown, Pa., opened. Pennsylvania is my home state, and I had never worked there. I took the job mainly because I think what we do is so important and I really had never had the opportunity to work with a really diverse population and in a place where the free and reduced percentage was really high. I thought I could make a difference there. At that time Allentown had 78% free and reduced students. Fifty-three percent of the students were Hispanic.

I was happy in Allentown and I wasn’t even looking for a job, but Peggy Lee, who was the director at Chesapeake and is now with the National Dairy Council, decided she was going to retire. She called me and said the district would be looking for someone to fill the position, so I threw my name in the hat.

The first year at a new place, you just watch and you find out about the people and understand the culture. The second year you make some assessments of what you think you could do. The third year you start to make some of those changes, and that’s where I’m at.

I have an agenda when I come into a district. The first thing is technology. This will be the third school district that I have been in that has had no point of sale system. They were doing everything with old cash registers. Here in Chesapeake, there was a system, but it was from 1994, and I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ We changed the technology this year. We implemented a $500,000 software program.

FoodService Director - Silver Plate 2010 - Joanne Kinsey - Chesapeake Public SchoolsMy next step is to get a breakfast program in every school, preferably Provision II, which I was able to accomplish in Allentown and I’m working on it in Chesapeake. I only have eight more schools that I need to get breakfast in.

I also want to expand summer foodservice. When I went to Allentown we had 23 sites. When I left we had 78. My basic premise is that we need to be participating in as many programs as we can that expand foodservice to students, like after-school snacks. This in turn helps the education sector. For summer foodservice we started with six programs in Chesapeake and last summer we had 19 programs. This year I expect that to double because the community knows that they can come to us to get this going. Now it’s not a matter of me asking if we can do breakfast and lunch at summer school, they call me and say, ‘These are the schools that are having summer school. Are we going to be able to have breakfast and lunch?’ People just didn’t realize the option was available, and at the locations we were providing summer feeding at, we were catering it and that was wrong.

One of the things that I thought was a problem when I got to Chesapeake was that they were too reliant on funds from à la carte items and the focus wasn’t on the meal. I’ve done this a couple of times now, but we just didn’t bid snacks to get the focus back on meals. We are not here to focus on chips, cookies and ice cream. We’re doing pretty well with that now. We’ve got that focus redirected. Did I lose money? Yes, I lost money. I knew that was going to be the outcome, but the meal counts went up. We now have a limited amount of à la carte items that meet healthy criteria for snacks. One manager came to me and said, ‘I think my meal counts are going down because of snacks,’ and I said, ‘What did I tell you? Don’t offer so many choices. You don’t have to have five types of chips.’ This just makes me realize that they got it. Their revenue may be down, but I’m seeing the reimbursements and the full picture.

I feel like the places that I’ve been, I’m made a contribution along with the staff there. I’m never doing it by myself by any means. I have the ideas, but I hope I keep staff inspired.

Last year I got the FAME award, which was really a humbling experience. It was nice to have the recognition because then the staff gets recognition from the district and community. The staff came to a school board meeting where I was being honored for receiving the FAME award and they wore their uniforms so you could see a sea of yellow and black (our uniform colors) in the audience. It’s nice that they could get that recognition. Somebody has to be the point person, but really the recognition of the work is for the whole team.

It never gets boring. We had a bomb scare at one of the larger high schools. There are about 2,200 students there. The first thing in the morning they had a bomb scare and they put everyone in the stadium. I only had a handful of staff who had come into work, and they wouldn’t let anyone else on campus. Five people had to start preparing for lunch until they let the other staff into the building. They made modifications because they lost two hours of prep time. The staff knew how to respond. We have to feed the kids and lunch is going to start on time, so what are we going to do to get meals ready even if it’s not the exact menu we had planned? They got meals ready. The kitchen was without power. It made it challenging, but the administration never doubted that meals would be served. They have that much confidence in us. It says a lot about the staff.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the staff and employees I have worked with have always been like an extended family and that I could always count on them. We all surround each other and support each other on the personal side as well as the professional side. 

We had a review when I had only been in Chesapeake for a year and a half. I had never had a review in Virginia so it was a big thing. We worked really hard to prepare for that and there wasn’t one finding. I talked with the team leader, and he said he could remember only one other time that a district had no findings. I was so proud. It was a total effort of everyone.

I think the secret is we just do what we do quietly and other people don’t even realize. In a way it’s good, but you want people to understand the scope of what you do. To get 20,000 meals out a day is no small feat. All of our schools produce their own food, so it’s like we run 47 restaurants.

I’ve taken several trips overseas with SNA. The first trip to South Africa was in 1996. Apartheid had just ended, and Nelson Mandela wanted a feeding program for the children of that country similar to the one we had in the United States. Thirty-four of us were on that trip. We had different meetings set up with departments, health institutes and other organizations that were interested in a feeding program. We were in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The international forum and the Global Child Nutrition Foundation were really built out of this trip. It is really neat to see how far we’ve come. That changed my life in a lot of ways. It changed my commitment to feeding kids. What we saw and the lack of nourishment and adequate housing that you are seeing now in Haiti, we saw all that in this country. It gave us a greater appreciation for what we have. I think we made a difference.

I then went on the China trip in 2005. I really had so much passion from that first trip, and China was a country that I hadn’t really had all that much experience with so I thought we might see similar needs. We visited schools and we had meetings with organizations and shared information. They had some feeding programs, clearly not as sophisticated and not government based. It was a different experience but equally rewarding.

I went to El Salvador on a mission trip with my church in 2008. I have a passion for international travel, but the mission is always feeding for children. Our church has a partnership with a church in El Salvador, and we’ve gone down there the past two years. My goal has been to try to determine what we can do to better nutrition. They don’t feed kids in school. In the area where we are, they have one group of students in the mornings and another in the afternoon so they don’t have to feed them at school. Every time I come home from one of these trips I feel compelled that we are not doing enough. It’s just frustrating.”