Linda Stoll: A “Focused” Makeover
Linda Stoll used focus groups to revamp the foodservice program at Jeffco Public Schools.
LINDA STOLL has improved foodservice at JEFFCO PUBLIC SCHOOLS by:
- CONDUCTING focus groups to better understand student desires and tailoring the foodservice program around those findings with programs like build-your-own bars
- HIRING an executive chef and doing more quick scratch cooking
- WORKING with local companies to create new products like customized spice packets
- PARTNERING with the high schools to run the student stores and vending machines
Other local partnerships include working with a company that freezes produce to serve during months when produce is not in season. Corn on the cob, cantaloupe and butternut squash have all been frozen and served months later in the schools. Another company makes applesauce out of Colorado apples, and yet another company provides a locally produced marinara sauce.
All these partnerships have been helpful with monthly Colorado Proud days, when everything served on the menu is grown, processed or produced in the state.
“Linda’s greatest attribute is she stays ahead of the curve,” Wright says about the menu advancements. “She’s not one to let grass grow under the feet. She forges ahead.”
Facing challenges: The menu isn’t the only area in which Stoll’s impact has been felt. During her first year at Jeffco, the department had a CRE review, which checks foodservice departments for compliance with USDA regulations. The review cited the district’s student stores as being in violation of competitive food regulations. This was the second time the district’s student stores had been cited for this violation.
“In talking with the department of education, they said, ‘you didn’t get any better in five years, what do you want us to do?’” Stoll recalls. “We decided we would like them to be pretty hard on us. They said we were in violation of regs and if we didn’t stop they would withhold our reimbursement, which comes to about $9.9 million dollars.”
At first, it seemed like the only answer was to close the stores. However, a high school principal worked out a plan with Stoll. “He said that the student store is another serving line for us,”
Stoll says. “He said it was really important and asked what we could do. I said let me run the student store as if it’s another line and we’ll do some profit sharing with you.”
Everything served in the student stores now meets the department’s nutritional guidelines. Using the model developed for the build-your-own bars, student workers run the student stores.
“We don’t tell kids that it’s another serving line. We want them to still think of it as the student store because it increases the cool factor,” Stoll says. “The stores offer some different things there than what is on our lines because of the lack of labor. We do fresh fruit smoothies for them and we have the kids who can operate the blender for us.”
The profit margin is split in half between the foodservice department and the schools. The schools also pay for 50% of the foodservice employee who works in the store. Stoll says last year $360,000 was returned to the 15 high schools with student stores.
The profit sharing model was expanded to include snack vending machines when another audit found those machines were in violation of competitive foods regulations.
Another challenge Stoll faced was communication with the department’s 350 serving sites.
“One of the things that I always felt was that with 350 sites it’s hard to have good communication out to the sites,” she says. “When we do communicate with them, I think they’ve always had a little bit of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling.”
So Stoll created key communicators, a group of 15 site-level managers that meets twice a month to address any issues. Those site-level managers then communicate with the other managers. “Communication now comes from peers and not from the admin building,” Stoll says.