School Professionals Receive 2017 Regional Director of the Year Award

The national non-profit, School Nutrition Association (SNA), has once again awarded Regional Directors of the Year, celebrating those who show an extraordinary commitment to their school meal programs. These heroes may work behind the scenes more than other cafeteria employees, but they are working hard to ensure everything on the frontline is running smoothly – by maintaining the quality of the school meal programs through student interaction, menu planning and a commitment to serving nutritious, tasty and well-balanced school meals.

Whether small or large districts, these professionals give it there all through effective oversight of all aspects of foodservice operations, including budgeting, staffing, training, marketing and community outreach, school nutrition directors ensure the overall success of school meal programs. While each winner has a long list of accomplishments and programs that they have spearheaded, each has made their mark in their district – making it a better place for all students and staff.

Debbie Derico, SNS, Director of Child Nutrition for Marshall County Schools – West Virginiaunnamed-1

Debbie Derico’s creativity, efficiency and consistency are the traits she brings to her job as director of child nutrition. She developed a base five-week cycle lunch menu and a three-week breakfast cycle for the county, changing the menu to add new entrées, vegetables or fruit as they become available. She has incorporated the Smarter Lunchroom Movement into her programs across the county and has improved the kitchen and cafeteria atmosphere by hanging posters that promote healthy eating and outline the elements of balanced meals and purchased menu boards for each school so that the cafeteria staff can write what is being served, as well as other merchandising displays. Derico works with various community groups, including the area Head Start Program, helping to serve their children and the Extension Service program, where students and parents have volunteered in their garden project.

Michael Gasper, Nutrition Services Supervisor for School District of Holmen – WisconsinFullSizeRender (2)

Michael Gasper has started many successful programs over the years, including a new Farm 2 School Program in 2010, a cooking classes for elementary students in 2010 and adding a full salad bar to every school district-wide. The salad bars were all granted, gifted or bartered for by Gasper. Gasper started the Farm 2 School Program by utilizing apples from local orchards and has since expanded it to include student-raised lettuce in the school greenhouse, and Holmen Future Farms of America members raising potatoes and sweet corn off site. Gasper created an Iron Chef competition, where students develop recipes that include one or more of the “Harvest of the Month” fruits or vegetables. Working with district staff, Gasper has implemented six new school gardens, started school picnics for the elementary school families, hosted cooking demonstrations and enacted a Student Nutrition Advisory Committee.

Deanna Gilbert, Director of Child Nutrition Services for Hope Public Schools – Arkansasunnamed copy

Deanna Gilbert has implemented many new projects, including a total renovation of the high school cafeteria to resemble a restaurant. Many of the programs implemented by Gilbert have increased school meal participation, including Grab & Go breakfast for grades nine through 12; a five-choice breakfast everyday for students in grades K-12; as well as the Summer Feeding program and farm-to-school initiatives. Known as the “Fruit Lady” by students, Gilbert also started the Fresh Fruit & Vegetables grant program in her district, educating students on the importance of fruits and vegetables. She also organizes a series of nutrition education programs for students, called “Color Me,” where district principals, teachers, the superintendent and students dress up as characters and perform skits about nutrition and healthy food choices.

Carmen Griffith, Food Service Director for Joint School District 171 Schools – IdahoLL Rock-Carmen

Carmen Griffith was instrumental in increasing the number of students who participate in the breakfast program. Griffith was among one of the first nutrition directors in the state of Idaho to implement Breakfast in the Classroom, helping to reach almost 100 percent participation district-wide. A proponent of communicating with the community through media, Griffith publishes the school menu in the newspaper and online. She coordinates posting monthly school board program reports to the district website, and worked alongside the technology director to develop and implement a PayPal option on the district website to aide parents and community members.

Cleta Long, EdD, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services for Bibb County Schools – Georgia4.

A past president of the Georgia School Nutrition Association, Dr. Cleta Long’s dedication to the students of Bibb County Schools is evident in everything she does. Long’s push to implement the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) meal service option district-wide has helped 25,000 students have access to school meals at no cost. As a leader and proud school foodservice director, Long worked with the local technical college and school nutrition state department to develop a Culinary Assistant and Manager Certificate program that school nutrition employees were able to take for free. Long held in-service training programs and a Test Kitchen course that culminated in a Food Show where 100 parents, students, administrators and community members attended and evaluated potential new menu options. Under Long’s leadership, the district’s Seamless Summer Meal Program has grown to serve more than 215,000 during the summer months, helping feed students at 100-plus sites.

Brenda Robinson, Director of Nutrition Services for Bakersfield City Schools – Californiaunnamed

Brenda Robinson improved the nutrition integrity of the menus, helping to implement fresh vegetable themed salad bars in 38 elementary sites and in all nine middle schools. Robinson also partnered with her local produce purveyor to develop monthly “Meet the Farmer” posters and prominently displayed the posters on the cafeteria serving line. Once a month, she helps coordinate a wellness class called “Now We’re Cooking” that instructs parents and students on how to prepare a meal together to help create healthier eating habits at home.

In July, all 21 Regional Award winners and the top three National Award winners will be honored during the Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in Atlanta, GA.

SNA has teamed up with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the popular LUNCH LADY graphic novel series, and Random House Children’s Books to celebrate all of America’s school nutrition professionals through School Lunch Hero Day, May 5. Students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit for more information.



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