Meet 2015 Silver Plate winner Mary Arlinda Hill

mary arlinda hill

For Mary Arlinda Hill, the drive to improve the well-being of her students, 90 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals, is personal. As a child, she attended the city’s schools, herself. “This is my school district,” she says. “So I do whatever it takes to make sure that things happen.”

Education was Hill’s first profession, not foodservice. After working as a commercial-foods teacher at R.H. Watkins Vocational Center in Laurel, Miss., she applied for a teaching position at Jackson Public Schools in Jackson, Miss. At the time, the district was in greater need of a foodservice director, and administrators convinced her to take that role instead. Hill agreed, planning to stay in the position only five years. Thirty-two years later, she still is making a difference in Jackson.

Though her career didn’t keep her in the classroom, Hill has been a teacher, educating her students and staff about wellness, career advancement and more. And her positive influence has been felt not only by students, but by the community as well. Here’s how:

1. Modernizing kitchens

In 2008, voters approved a $150 million bond to rebuild two schools and construct three new ones to help alleviate overcrowding in the district. Hill used a portion of the funds (plus additional state grants) to design five new kitchens and replace equipment, some of which was 30 years old. New walk-ins, combi ovens and other items, created more efficiency for the staff, allowing them to prep food ahead of time and store it overnight. “This allowed them to really do more planning,” Hill says. “It also [gave] them more space because, in many instances, they were almost working on top of each other.”

2. Tailoring healthy offerings

Each school under Hill’s direction offers its own variety of fruits and vegetables based on students’ preferences. She encourages managers to review their sales daily to determine which produce items are most popular, increasing the likelihood that students actually will eat what they select, she says. All schools also offer a salad of the day. And Hill outfitted new and updated school kitchens with vegetable choppers, so staff can chop fruits and vegetables more quickly and neatly, improving the appearance of produce featured on the salad bar and serving line. Hill’s efforts have paid off. In September 2012, 39 elementary schools were recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as Healthier U.S. Challenge Schools.

3. Encouraging employee wellness

Every spring for the past four years, Hill’s department has been holding a “10 Lbs., 10 Weeks” weight-loss program. Staff members who lose at least 10 pounds receive a $25 gift card. The employee who loses the most weight receives an additional prize, such as a bike, and is honored at the annual employee-recognition dinner.

4. Paving a path for career growth

To help cooks, managers and other foodservice workers move up the career ladder, Hill developed a districtwide management-training program. At least 50 percent of Hill’s management team are graduates of the program. In addition, all managers and area supervisors have completed Level 1 School Nutrition Association certification, providing basic education in nutrition and food safety.

5. Connecting with the community

Hill turned National School Lunch Week into a districtwide celebration, inviting community leaders to come into the schools to eat meals with students. The kids decorated classrooms, gave presentations and wrote essays with themes that connected school foodservice with the curriculum. Hill also developed a logo that is displayed on water bottles, T-shirts and hats to promote the department and emphasize the role that foodservice plays in students’ education. The food-services department also hosts a 5-K Wellness Walk in October that is open to the community. Participants gather at the district’s football field, Hughes Field, to walk the perimeter with the superintendent and sample healthy snacks. As the event has grown, vendors such as the American Heart Association have signed on to provide wellness tests.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Howard County Public School System in Ellicott City, Md., will be offering free lunch to students for two days during winter break, The Baltimore Sun reports.

This is the first time the district will be providing meals over winter break. The lunch will be served on Dec. 27 and 28 at two sites in the community.

About 22.2% of the district’s students are enrolled for free or reduced-price meals. The district served 66,276 meals last summer during its summer meal program .

Read the full story via baltimoresun.com .

Industry News & Opinion

Cranston School District in Cranston, R.I., has hired a collection agency to help reduce its lunch debt , NBC 10 reports.

The district’s chief operating officer sent a letter to parents saying that the district would be using a collection agency next year to collect outstanding lunch balances after other collection methods have failed. Parents who owe $20 or more and haven’t paid in the last 60 days will receive a letter from the agency starting Jan. 2, 2019.

Cranston accumulated $95,508 in unpaid lunch balances between Sept. 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018. The district’s meal...

Ideas and Innovation
hot school lunch

As lunch shaming remains in the national spotlight, many school districts have turned away from providing alternate meals, such as a cheese sandwich, to students who can’t pay for lunch. While this ensures that students are provided a full meal and aren’t stigmatized, it has caused some districts to quickly accumulate lunch debt . In order to keep funds under control, school districts throughout the country are now relying on assistance from their communities to defray the cost of some meals.

1. School lunch fairies

Students at Apollo-Ridge School District in Spring Church, Pa.,...

Industry News & Opinion

When looking for a way to get more use out of its Canyon Cafe, open during the weekends only, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., tried something new: free cooking classes.

Classes are open to students, as well as faculty and staff, and are taught by Campus Dining Executive Chef Michael Albright, according to Mustang News .

The weekday classes, which are capped at 14 participants, have taught attendees how to make items such as probiotic overnight oats and “the perfect turkey.” Interested parties can sign up online via the school’s dining...

FSD Resources