Directors share insights into their training programs, offer innovative programs for others to try
We asked 14 child nutrition director questions about their training programs, ranging from who does the training and how often training is done to what types of additional training they feel their staff could benefit from. Read what other directors are doing in their district and then share your own stories with us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is most of your training done in house or out of house?
All 14 directors answered they did most of their training in house.
Serena Suthers (director of food service, Prince William County Schools, Manassas, Va.): We do lots on site, hands-on training at our schools but also have an extensive list of classes that can be taken at our central foodservice office.
Susan Wood (child nutrition program director, Hoover City School District, Alabama): The majority of our staff training is done in house. Several of our staff are ServSafe instructors and one is an SNA-certified trainer. We utilize a lot of the SNA materials. We do have outside trainers at some of our meetings. We also send managers to SDE training and outside staff development that meets specific needs.
Jane Bender (nutrition services supervisor, Minnetonka School District, Minnesota): For our new hires we do in-house training for the basics of food, sanitation and preparation. We encourage our staff to continue their school nutrition education via the SNA certification program. Those staff who reach level one, two and three are paid an additional wage differential to their hourly rate. We also do one-on-on training in the kitchens with new hires. They shadow an employee as they learn the job. It’s a hands-on approach, which is very successful for the kitchen arena.
Micheline Piekarski (director of food and nutrition, Oak Park & River Forest High School, Illinois): I am a small district, so most of our training is done in house. I have one meeting before school starts each year and then I bring in someone from the outside. I meet and have a quick training of some kind once a week. I think that short, quick, helpful reminders work the best.
Sandra Ford (director of food and nutrition, School District of Manatee County, Bradenton, Fla.): We do most of our own training. Occasionally we hire a motivational speaker. We have a training specialist who focuses on planning and implementing our training program.
How many staff training sessions do you have in an average school year?
Most of the directors said they had around three training sessions each year for all staff members. Most directors also said they had done additional training sessions for management staff.
Serena Suthers: We do one required session for all employees yearly; it’s a back-to-school in-service. Managers have two full-day sessions, one in August and one in January. Then we have numerous classes offered that employees select depending on their growth needs. Classes include baking, entrée production, sanitation, catering, cost control, leadership, work scheduling and food production planning.
Lisa McCarty (food services director, Owensboro ISD, Kentucky): The managers meet with the staff monthly after our managers’ meetings and review and train the staff on any new requirements.
Susan Wood: We have two formal training days a year for all employees. Managers at the school level have mini training sessions throughout the school year.
Cindy Hobbs (executive director, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina): Our training program includes training for managers, manager trainees and employees. Our managers attend two mandatory training sessions each year. They receive ServSafe training every three years. We typically hold two ServSafe sessions each year. Our manager trainees receive about 130 hours of classroom training and a 90-day internship under a training manager. We hold manager training sessions once or twice a year, depending on our needs. Employee training includes sanitation and customer service. Employees are required to take this training once every three years. We typically offer about five sessions of each every year so that our 1,200 employees can cycle through every three years. New cafeteria workers are required to attend a one-day new worker training program. We offer baking classes for employees about three times a year.
Jane Bender: Annually we do a minimum of eight hours of mandatory all-staff training. This includes annual training on topics required by the USDA. Sometimes we do this in one, eight-hour day. Sometimes we break it up into two, four-hour sessions. We also try to do an additional four to six hours of training for our managers and cooks about halfway through the school year that focuses on the management segment of their jobs.
Miguel Villarreal (director of food and nutritional services, Novato Unified School District, California): One per year with all staff at the beginning of the year. We used to have monthly one-hour meetings/trainings with staff, but we had to eliminate them to reduce labor costs. We currently conduct onsite training with staff on specific topics related to that site.
Is most of your staff training done by someone on staff or by someone from an outside company/organization?
All directors said the majority of their staff training was done by someone on staff. Many directors noted that there is a dedicated training person on staff. Directors also noted that they bring in outside personnel to do training on new technology pieces or other highly specific topics. Miguel Villarreal says he will use dietetic interns from outside organizations to provide training, usually at no cost to the district.
Would your staff benefit from additional training than what you are currently able to provide them?
All directors said their staff could benefit from additional training.
Carol Chong (director of food and menu management, Miami Dade County Public Schools, Miami): Absolutely. Training is always a positive thing to do. Knowledge is power, especially when the expectation is continuous improvement.
Serena Suthers: We are always looking for training materials. Each of our employees has a professional growth plan developed for them by their supervisor. It becomes difficult to find new and challenging training for our senior employees.
Kymm Mutch (administrator school nutrition services, Milwaukee Public Schools): My staff would benefit greatly from outside trainers but cost is an issue.
Jane Bender: I can’t think of when additional training wouldn’t be a benefit. Training is expensive (we have to pay union wages and need to think about the budget). It does help to pay to have some training done by outside presenters as they give a new perspective and add their own insights and examples. But good trainers are not cheap.
If you could provide additional training, in which area would your staff benefit most from?
The top four areas were customer service, productivity, food preparation and interpersonal skills. Employee safety and food safety also ranked high.
Cindy Hobbs: Interpersonal skills: I have just hired a new staff member who will concentrate on this area for us this year. Employee relation problems are starting to take a large amount of our supervisor’s time and we hope that this training will equip employees to handle issues before they escalate.
What innovative or fun ways have you provided training for your staff?
Carol Chong: We do a summer training institute for part-time foodservice staff taught by some of our foodservice managers. We did this a few years ago but because of budgetary restraints we weren’t able to do it again until this year. We do skits and game show experiences like Jeopardy to reinforce the lesson.
Julia Bauscher (director, Jefferson County School District, Louisville, Ky.): We use skits, games and roundtable discussions.
Serena Suthers: During the past few years we have added Leadership Book Clubs to our list of professional growth activities. We have selected books such as “Raving Fans” about customer service by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles; “Eat that Frog!” about procrastinating and productivity by Brian Tracy; and “The No Complaining Rule,” which gave positive ways to deal with negativity in the workplace by Jon Gordon. Our managers read the book and then met to discuss what they had read and how it could apply to our foodservice operations. This has been a great training tool.
Susan Wood: We’ve used game shows like Family Feud for food safety, skits for dress code, and hands-on training for measuring, knife skills and culinary skills. We have had the fire department work with us on fire safety, and managers have taken tours of our food distributor operations.
Teal Carpenter (school lunch director, Gloversville Enlarged School District, New York): The most original training I have had for my staff was presented by another director. He does a Trayline from Hell program. In this scenario all the staff are now students. They run through the trayline with the trainer and a couple of other directors operating the line. These people do all the things that shouldn’t be done. After this experience the trainer talks about what they have just experienced and how the situations that came up should be handled or could be handled better.
Kymm Mutch: We’ve done skills demonstration testing. Supervisors learned a lot about kitchen managers’ skills and knowledge.
Mary Anderson (supervisor of Culinary Express, Wayzata School District, Minnesota): We have designed boot camps for several trainings where all the staff is involved in hands-on work, from knife skills to preparation of new recipes. We also have done breakout sessions where the groups rotate through a series of sessions. Once a year we join with several surrounding districts for an all staff training session that focuses on a variety of subjects from customer service to dealing with difficult staff. This is held at a community center and we provide a light supper. The training is between three and four hours.
Serena Suthers: Every couple of workshops I bring out the Glow Germ, a lotion and powder that glows under a black light. I have one person put lotion and one person put powder on their hands. They shake hands and touch things and it gives a visual of how germs spread. Then I have all the staff rub their hands with the powder or lotion and take a break. During the break they are to wash their hands and check them under the black light to see how well they washed the “germs” away.
Another successful hands-on session included using fake food to demonstrate offer verses serve. We had the staff figure out reimbursable meals with an actual food production record and fake food and lunch trays available to set them up. We generally do this in groups of four or five. I also ask them to try to make up trays that look reimbursable but actually are not.
Melissa Parmer (nutrition and wellness budget coordinator, Paradise Valley Unified School District, Phoenix): We have taken field trips to Shamrock so the staff can see the overall process of deliveries.
Miguel Villarreal: I have held our back-to-school training at one of the local farms that grows produce. The staff was able to meet the farmer, walk around the farm, and learn how the produce is grown and prepared for distribution.