School Nutrition Directors Recognized for Excellence

The national non-profit, School Nutrition Association (SNA), has awarded the 2018 Regional Directors of the Year, celebrating individuals for excellence in leadership and commitment to their school meal programs. Excelling at budgeting, professional training and leading cafeteria staff in great customer service, these Regional Directors of the Year ensure the overall success of their school meal programs and students’ school day.

Whether small or large districts, these professionals give it their all through effective oversight of all aspects of foodservice operations, including budgeting, ordering, staffing, training, marketing and community outreach. Their love of students is matched by love of commitment to helping their community.

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. From new breakfast programs to starting a district food truck, ingenuity and hard work are always on the menu.

Carol Barker, Child Nutrition Director for Auburn School District – Washingtonunnamed-4

For more than three decades, Carol Barker has been dedicated to making sure students have access to healthy meals at school and beyond. Through her persistent efforts to continue expanding the Summer Meal Program, about 50,000 meals are now provided to children in 35 locations throughout the district. Carol has used various channels to promote school foodservice and improve access to meals, including partnering with the public library bookmobile to assist parents with meal benefit applications and attending community events such as street fairs and farmer’s markets in the district. She has implemented several breakfast initiatives, including “Breakfast in the Courtyard,” which doubled student participation in one middle school; “Breakfast After the Bell,” which resulted in a 25 percent increase in another middle school; and “Second Chance Breakfast,” which doubled the number of students who ate breakfast at the high school from 375 to 750. Holding periodic taste tests has helped increase lunch participation. In 2016, Carol developed “Recipe for Success,” a monthly training program for staff interested in becoming managers. She has made staff training and continued education fun, creating a different theme each year. Last year’s theme, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” focused on effective staff communication and this year’s “Pudding Kids First” is about the importance of customer service.

Todd A. Bedenbaugh, Child Nutrition Director for Lexington-Richland School District 5 – South CarolinaHarbison West Elementary School 4th graders Jayden Samuels, Zakhia Ravenel, Ben Rivera, Henry Dawson, Chris Hionis and Todd A. Bedenbaugh

As a child nutrition professional for the past 25 years, Todd A. Bedenbaugh works tirelessly to ensure that his district is providing quality food and customer service to students. Leading the only district to receive back-to-back $100,000 USDA Farm-to-School grants, he implemented the new “Farm to Five: Communities Thrive” program in 2016 that focused on gardens and greenhouses at three schools. Students have planted kale, broccoli and cucumber seeds and then harvested crops to be incorporated in school menus. Bedenbaugh received funding from the State Department of Agriculture to send teachers and staff on field trips to local farms and make upgrades to several school gardens. Continuing to grow his department’s local sourcing efforts, Todd will work with an agricultural educator and students to start a small farm this summer to begin growing broccoli for the district. The Farm to Five program has also supported initiatives like the district’s Pronto Taco food truck, a summer food truck that travels the district in search of hungry students out of school for the summer. He also secured grants that paid for 24 of his district employees to attend a one-week culinary training camp at Trident Technical College, where they learned new culinary skills to enhance school menus. Todd started the District Education Foundation Golf Tourney to raise funds for the District Snack Pack Program that provides nutritious food for students who do not have enough to eat through the weekend. For the last four years, he organized a district-wide Chopped contest to introduce students to the culinary field.

Jana Cruz, Director of Nutrition Services for Jordan School District – Utahunnamed-2

For almost ten years, Jana Cruz has led the Jordan School District nutrition department with constant attention to food quality and taste and a big focus on the benefits of fruits and vegetables. Jana started a Farm to School program seven years ago, building relationships with local farmers and expanding to purchase local produce to menu in 56 schools. She was instrumental in the development of a district greenhouse, working with the district’s Career Technical Education (CTE) department to provide supplies and an instructor to teach students about agriculture. Coordinating with the CTE, greenhouse instructor and local produce companies, she also helps plan and execute “Farm Field Days,” a field trip introducing seventh grade urban students to the farming community. Jana has created partnerships with various organizations to better promote the school nutrition program and all of its efforts. In conjunction with the local Dairy Council, she organized a photo shoot with students to promote school breakfast. The “Breakfast Brings Out the Best” posters and banners featuring students drew great interest among staff, parents and students. Jana supports the “Bring Your Parents to Breakfast Day” each year, partnering with her district’s Parent Teacher Association to provide breakfast, activities and music for elementary school students and parents to enjoy each year. She is dedicated to creating a positive environment for staff, supporting an open learning environment for them to learn and improve.

Louise Dean, SNS, Foodservice Director for Eastern Aroostook Regional School Unit 39 – MaineLouise Dean

In her 28 years as a school nutrition professional, Louise Dean has made it her mission to feed more children healthy school meals, and the data shows how successful she’s been. The Breakfast in the Classroom program Dean implemented to provide more students a healthy start to their day resulted in an impressive 350 percent increase in student breakfast participation. More students with full bellies who were ready to learn also meant 50 percent fewer visits to the school nurse because of hunger pains. After Louise secured Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) status for two of her schools, school lunch participation increased by 25 percent. She also initiated a Summer Food Service Program to provide healthy options to students year round and implemented the district’s first online payment program, making it easier for parents to track their child’s meal accounts. Promoting healthy trends in school, Louise also worked with local farmers, incorporating fresh produce into school meals whenever possible. Always keeping safety in mind, Louise closely monitors students’ allergies, food sensitivities and health restrictions to ensure that every student will be able to choose a healthy meal from the menu. She visits kindergarten classes each fall to read to students about the importance of healthy foods and snacks. The students help her plan a breakfast and lunch that they will later see on the menu.

Lynelle Johnson, SNS, Food Service Director for Williston Public School District – North DakotaLynelle Johnson

Lynelle Johnson goes above and beyond her duties as a food service director, running a smooth program through her proactive problem solving. When her district was opening a new high school, she gathered information from all of her students, holding samplings days, creating the perfect menu that would fit their growing taste buds. Through Lynelle’s efforts, her schools have secured the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant for the past 11 years, enabling them to serve a free fresh fruit or vegetable snack to almost 3,000 students three times a week. Her grant writing skills also secured funding to help establish “The Coyote Grounds Cafe” in the new high school, where coffee, meals and snacks are available to students and faculty members. She worked with her five elementary school principals to implement the Share Tables Program, reducing the amount of food waste in the cafeteria. She also initiated Book Buddy Breakfasts four times a year with kindergarten and first grade students, allowing parents and students to enjoy reading and having a healthy breakfast together. Lynelle successfully promoted in the state’s “Pride of Dakota Day” by speaking to local media about the importance of using locally grown produce in school meals. Students in Kindergarten through grade eight enjoyed a lunch menu that featured a variety of foods produced in North Dakota, including carrots from nearby Vallevik Farms.

Julie Telesca, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services for Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District – TexasJulie Telesca

Over her 23-year tenure, Julie Telesca has dedicated her time and energy into growing student participation in school meals by preparing and presenting nutritious meals with eye appeal. Julie’s development of a cafeteria manager trainee program helps the district identify talented candidates, eager for advancement and guide them on a path to promotion. She has helped better prepare staff members for their jobs and reduced the turnover rate. She participates in a back to school fair in which nutrition services employees volunteer time to assist families with the free and reduced price meal application process and provides nutrition education and a healthy breakfast to the participants and volunteers during the fair. Whether assisting the district in receiving multiple grant awards, or working with local produce companies to provide locally grown ingredients for her school menus, Julie is a big proponent of nutrition education in the cafeteria and beyond. Each year, she participates in Rachel’s Challenge, a 5K race and health and wellness fair. She coordinates a community service event with a local charity or food bank around the holidays, collecting items and donating her services. Julie recently implemented “Farm Fresh Friday;” one Friday each month the district features a different regionally grown fruit or vegetable. She creates an informational calendar menu that provides nutrition education, the theme of the month and special events.

In July, all 21 Regional Award winners, including the top three National Award winners, will be honored during a Red Carpet Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in Las Vegas, NV.

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, Friday, May 4. 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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