After the foodservice management company for District of Columbia Public Schools announced it would not renew its contract after the school year, Rob Jaber, director of food and nutrition services for the D.C. schools, saw the chance to let the community help shape school feeding. Here’s how Jaber turned choosing the District’s next contractor into a public process.
Q: How did you initially engage the members of your district?
A: We went to community meetings in each D.C. ward. We said, “What do you like? What don’t you like? What do you want to see?” This helped inform the foodservice contract and request for proposal.
Q: What was the next step?
A: Once we got all that information back, we sent out multiple surveys, which revealed that vegetarian meals are increasingly popular; so we were able to fortify the language in the RFP to say we wanted a different vegetarian option every day beyond salad. Another response was, “My child does not like the options.” So we mandated student taste-testing.
Q: How were you able to specifically involve the students in contract shopping?
A: When it comes to the meal program, students do want to have some sort of say or control over what’s going to happen. The bidders came to a school, along with students who were selected to participate, and a taste test was conducted. Let me tell you, there was a lot of food. We’re price-concerned, but not price-centric, so the points system was geared to technically being able to provide for the students.