School Nutrition Directors Recognized Regionally For Excellence

The national non-profit, School Nutrition Association (SNA), has awarded the 2019 Regional Directors of the Year, celebrating individuals for their excellence in leadership and commitment to the school meal programs that thrive under their direction each day. Excelling at budgeting, professional training and leading cafeteria staff in great customer service, these Regional Director of the Year recipients ensure the overall success of their school meal programs and students’ school day.

Directors are recognized from small and large districts, proving that it’s not the size of the district that determines its successful outcomes. These professionals excel 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 or improved upon, each has made their mark in their school district – making it a healthier place for students and staff. From new breakfast programs to feeding children during the summer months, ingenuity and hard work are always on the menu.

Adrianne Schwartz, Food Service Supervisor for Juneau School District – Alaska

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Adrianne Schwartz

Within her first year as supervisor of the food service program, Adrianne Schwartz added hot lunches and salad bars to all school sites, skyrocketing student lunch participation. Schwartz also implemented a school-sponsored Universal Breakfast program at the district’s elementary and middle schools, as well as their alternative high school. Working with a local interagency group, Schwartz reaches outside her school duties to address how the district meets hunger needs throughout the whole community. A strong advocate for professional development and supporter of the Alaska School Nutrition Association (AKSNA), Schwartz encourages her staff to attend state agency trainings and conferences when possible. Leading by example, she creates fun events around special school nutrition promotions, including National School Lunch Week and National School Breakfast Week. Schwartz leads a monthly School Nutrition Advisory Committee and sits on the state USDA Foods Advisory Committee in an effort to ensure children in her district and across the state have access to healthy meals.

Jeni Lange, Director of School Nutrition Services for Mentor Public Schools – Ohio

Jeni Lange

For 15 of her 30 years at Mentor Public Schools, Jeni Lange has served as Director of Nutrition Services, overseeing 14 schools. Lange started the first Point of Sale (POS) system, providing a completely different way to serve the roughly 9,000 students in her district. After training 46 staff members to use the new technology, she implemented an online payment system, making it easier for parents to control their child’s school meal account. Concerned with the rise in allergies and dietary restrictions, Lange also implemented a mobile software program allowing students and parents to review all nutrition ingredients, allergens and nutritional value for all school meals. She creates an open dialogue with students, gathering information that will help her staff create meals to appeal to students with varying tastes. Through this collaboration, Lange has added ethnic recipes on menus, encouraged her staff to create meatless days for vegetarians and hold taste tests of new items.

Lori McCoy, Director of Food Services for Colonial School District – Pennsylvania 

Lori McCoy

Since joining Colonial in 2007, McCoy has overseen an increase in school lunch and breakfast meal participation, drastically improved the Food Service Department financial position, revamped menus to include many healthy and nutritious choices and introduced programs to better serve students’ needs. She has creatively used grants to implement new programs, like breakfast kiosks at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School and Colonial Middle School; smoothie stations and Second Chance Breakfast at Conshohocken Elementary School; introducing mascot Walter Melon at the district’s five elementary schools, etc. McCoy has increased the speed of service through creation of an online pre-ordering form at the high school and the installation of a biometric finger-scanning system. She was the first food service director in Pennsylvania to participate in the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and developed made to order salad bars at the secondary levels. Under McCoy’s guidance and perseverance, Colonial was among the first school districts in the region to offer sushi as a menu selection. McCoy had also started a cooking show with a local professional chef and students from the school, giving students and parents tips on how to eat healthier. She has created special promotional days in her cafeterias, including World School Milk Day, pep rallies with Philadelphia Eagle players, Cinco de Mayo-themed menus and more.

Elaine Harris, Director of School Nutrition for Paola Unified School District 368 – Kansas

Elaine Harris

For the past eight years, Elaine Harris has dedicated herself to creating a financially secure department and finding grant funding for new equipment. She has also focused on adding scratch cooking to school menus, including gluten-free options, and increasing school meal participation across her district. Harris oversaw the implementation of student taste-tests, added whole grain menu options and installed a flavor station in the high school cafeteria. Harris implemented the summer feeding program about four years ago. She also oversees an annual Serving Our Students (SOS) event held right before school starts. For the past two years, Harris has also given tours of the kitchen to culinary students and explained the importance of time and temperatures in food preparation. Harris organizes in-service training sessions and certification classes for her staff of 40 each year. Harris is also a two-time president of SNA of Kansas holding various positions within her state and SNA national over the years.

Robert Lewis, Food Service Director for El Monte City School District – California

Dr. Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis has 20 years of school food service experience. Most recently in El Monte City Schools, he implemented a variety of new programs, funded by grants that he secured in order to cover costs in a district already saddled with a previous deficit. He reduced operational costs by eliminating food waste within his department and implemented a student taste-testing program to weed out poor performing menu options. To better use the facility and cut down on costs, he also brought back in-house scratch cooking for many previously out-sourced items. Lewis added a Second Chance Breakfast Program, also serving summer breakfast at specific sites, and started a successful Grab and Go Breakfast option. By securing various grant opportunities, Lewis was able to fund a Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program and get new kitchen equipment, including natural gas co-generators. Lewis also applied for an equipment grant, which helped the district purchase a packaging machine that provides $145,000 per year in labor savings and a delivery vehicle, which saves $36,000 in fuel costs. Lewis has taken over the planning of the city Wellness Carnival, which includes the participation of more than 30 wellness organizations and all 14 schools. At a middle school Wellness Expo, Lewis coordinates farmer workshops, dance classes, produce sampling, taste tests, meditation exercises and nutrition classes. He started the Caught Eating Healthy Campaign, where students who are “caught” choosing fresh fruit and vegetables during mealtime can receive tickets for prize drawings. This campaign not only teaches students valuable life lessons, it markets the school nutrition program to the wider education and city community.

Janelle Peterson, School Nutrition Manager for Rapid City Area School District – South Dakota

Janelle Peterson

For the past eight years, Janelle Peterson has dedicated her time and energy into growing the district’s school meal programs; implementing breakfast programs, expanding on free and reduced meal programs and adding access to healthy meals during the summer. One of her first major steps, Peterson implemented the School Breakfast Program at all 23 schools, increasing breakfast participation from 525 students in September 2011 to 3,200 students in January 2019. Peterson coordinated the implementation of Community Eligibility Provision in nine schools. In 2011, Peterson started the district’s highly successful Summer Meal Foodservice Program, which now uses a mobile feeding unit and served 7,953 breakfast meals and 22,186 total lunches in the summer of 2018 alone. The truck is decorated with the same branded, vibrant watercolor fruits and vegetables found in the district’s production kitchens – encouraging students to “Choose Joy” and “Dream Big.” She believes that the physical environment in which students eat should reflect a positive atmosphere. Peterson has used the food truck as a platform to bring the district’s child nutrition program to the public through live videos, interviews and regular posts on social media. She continues to encourage her staff to attend SNA conferences and chapter meetings, take advantage of training sessions and work for the betterment of school nutrition within the community as a whole.

In July, all 19 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 73rd Annual National Conference in St. Louis, MO.

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 3. 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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