Eileen Staples: Staying Ahead

Eileen Staples didn't wait for new meal regs to kick in, she made adjustments on her own.

At a Glance

  • 71,000 enrollment
  • 100 serving locations
  • 71,500 meals served each day
  • 750 foodservice employees

Accomplishments

EILEEN STAPLES has renovated foodservice at GREENVILLE COUNTY SCHOOLS by:

  • DEVELOPING Culinary Creations, a dining program that improves the quality and healthfulness of meals. A chef was hired to lead the program, in which more items are cooked from scratch
  • FOCUSING on training, particularly food safety, to ensure the department’s goals are consistent throughout this large district
  • RENOVATING or rebuilding 60 school cafeterias, which led to increased participation
  • TAKING over school stores to sell students food items and school supplies 

Twenty-seven elementary schools are now in the Culinary Creations program. The remaining 23 elementary schools will join the program next year, with the middle and high schools following after that.

Culinary isn’t the only training area on which Staples has focused. She’s made food safety a priority as well. When the department implemented HACCP procedures six years ago, Staples knew it would be difficult to go to each school to ensure compliance. Instead, she created eight training manager positions, whose responsibility it was to visit the schools for additional training after the full-staff version.

“It’s really helped communication,” Staples says of the training managers. “Instead of having someone from the central office going to the schools, we have people at the school level. The schools feel comfortable calling the managers for updates. We always say training is continuous and repetitive.”

Staples went even further with her focus on safety and sanitation. Twice a year Staples hires a company to conduct third-party food safety audits at the schools. “When staff know they are going to be measured it sets a bar and they understand what the expectation is,” Staples says. Schools that earn a 100% from the audit receive a trophy, and each staff member gets a gift card.

“I like to say I’m a food safety fanatic,” Staples says. That emphasis helped the department win an award from the National Sanitation Foundation in 2009. Staples believes Greenville is the only district to have received the award.

Updating the environment

Having great-tasting—and safely prepared—meals is only part of the battle when it comes to getting students, particularly older ones, to participate in the school meal program. Staples and her team knew they needed to upgrade the dining environments in the high schools to make them more inviting. Since 2000, the district has renovated or rebuilt 72 of its schools. Staples, who joined the district in 2002, has helped with the cafeteria part of 60 of those.

“We had two school [cafeterias] that had battleship gray walls,” Staples recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t think so. That’s not going to work.’” Staples worked with Marketing and Training Specialist Quentin Cavanagh to put out a bid for an outside company to come into Hillcrest High School to rid the cafeteria of its dreary walls.

“Hillcrest was our test site,” Staples says. “We thought, ‘If we spend the money, is this going to help increase participation?’”

The foodservice department invested $144,000 at Hillcrest to paint murals on the once-gray walls and update seating. In two years, the department has made that money back through increased participation. In other schools that received face-lifts, Staples says revenue has increased between 20% and 30%.

Cavanagh also negotiated with administrators to take over the school stores at the middle and high schools. The stores sell a variety of school supplies and grab-and-go items like salads and sandwiches. The department currently runs stores in three high schools and one middle school. Next year, the department will take over four more.

Staples readily admits that all the building and new projects the department has undertaken in her 10 years at the helm would not have been possible without her surrounding cast.

“The only thing I’m going to take credit for are the people that I’ve hired,” she says. Everything we do, we do as a team. They are extremely talented.”

Urban says Staples’ team-building ability is her greatest attribute. “She’s been so successful because she’s built a very diverse team with a variety of skill sets,” he says. “Her ability to get those around her to achieve her goals [is] a sign of a great leader.” 

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