"We have a tremendous staff of professionals," he says of those who make up the school system's "fabulous" foodservice team. He is slightly embarrassed that it's only his name on his Silver Plate Award, he says, because he credits the team with accomplishing so much.
Still, how this team came to be and its development are not accidental. Barrett seems to understand the relationship between superior output to the customer—in this case the students—and the cultivation of the employees who deliver that output.
Good foundation: He joined the Dallas school system in April 1995 having worked in college and school foodservice operations in Utah, Nevada and Alaska. Dallas had a good program when he got there, says Barrett, whose predecessor had also been a Silver Plate Award winner. "But you always look at things with a new set of eyes and a different approach when someone new comes in," he adds.
He began his tenure during a time of tremendous change in the school system in terms of personnel; so while the program's foundation was strong, there was a good deal of reorganizing that had to be done. "We restructured, and I think one of our best accomplishments is that we've been able to create an environment that allows people to grow," he says.
Promoting from within has been an important part of Dallas' formula for success, giving people the opportunity to train for higher positions and move up within the system.
Building on the foundation: Adding steam to the engine has been Barrett's commitment to effectively putting technology to work for the foodservice operation. Automating processes for the schools and getting all staff members trained in various applications, including database and word processing applications, has been a top priority for Dallas, a system that has anywhere from $3-$5 million worth of inventory at any given time.
Looking ahead, Barrett is working on a plan to use computer-based training applications that would give employees the opportunity to learn about various subjects, from how to use a fire extinguisher properly to counting money to proper hygiene.
It's a business: The Dallas foodservice team also puts a high premium on using the most effective business processes and keeping close track of its financials. The system has been fine-tuned to the point that external auditors and even the school board have taken note of the foodservice department's business practices, says Barrett.
In the end, however, the driving force behind his efforts, and probably his success, is his affinity for nurturing people and laying the foundation from which people can build.
"I really enjoy working with people, working with the team," he says. "And I relish in seeing people do well. I just love to see people do something and do it well, and to think that I had some part in providing the tools to help them do it."
Meanwhile, the students are ultimately the beneficiaries of all of this good team development. "We take such pride in our food," he declares. "We really care about the kids."