School Nutrition Program Directors Honored for Dedication

Constantly thinking about the needs of students in their communities, playing a pivotal role in reaching more students with school meals, collaborating and communicating effectively – these are a few of the ways those honored as regional Directors of the Year stand out in their school communities.

In conjunction with School Lunch Hero Day, School Nutrition Association is highlighting the achievements of those named Director of the Year from regions across the country.

Lori McKean Brace, Food Service Supervisor for Wapakoneta City Schools, OH

Lori McKean Brace, Food Service Supervisor for Wapakoneta City Schools, OH, the Mideast regional Director of the Year

Brace has been with Wapakoneta City Schools for more than two decades, working to promote school nutrition to a higher level, with a passion for helping new supervisors succeed. 

When she arrived in the district, the food service account was in the red and had received a loan from the district. Through her budgeting skills, menu revamps and labor adjustments the department was able to pay back the loan. For the past 24 years, the Food Service Department has been operating in the black while keeping lunch prices as low as possible for the community. She has secured raises and attendance bonuses for food service employees, helping to reduce absenteeism and improve staff morale.

When schools closed in March of 2020, a plan was immediately put in place to deliver meals to 11 sites, three times a week. Under McKean Brace’s guidance, the Food Service Department prepared those meals, which were delivered by administration and bus drivers with the help of volunteers. Today, the district has an incredible 82% participation rate for lunch and breakfast participation has increased to 36%.

McKean Brace has worked with a farmer to get five acres of sweet corn grown for the school food service department. The farmer delivers the corn to the school and students get involved by shucking it. She oversees a school garden for students to take care of, with those vegetables used in school salad bars. McKean Brace is hoping to secure a farm to school bid through Ohio’s SWEPC Commodity Cooperative in the upcoming school year’s budget.

During National School Breakfast Week in March and National School Lunch Week in October, McKean Brace plans an all Ohio menu so students can learn firsthand where their food comes from.

Danielle Bock, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services for Greeley-Evans School District 6, CO

Danielle Bock, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services for Greeley-Evans School District 6, CO, the Southwest regional Director of the Year

In the height of the COVID pandemic, Danielle Bock’s commitment to her school nutrition program and the families it serves was remarkable. When schools shut down suddenly in 2020, Bock and her team initiated ways to continue providing student access to healthy food. With the help of the district’s transportation department, she was able to implement a mobile feeding program. 

Bock’s work before the pandemic hasn’t gone unnoticed either. At one point, the nutrition department was facing a negative student meal account balance of over $100,000. Knowing the majority of that money could not be repaid by families, she helped launch a partnership with the district’s fundraising foundation to cover the losses.

Since coming to Greeley-Evans School District 6 in 2014, Bock has been an advocate for the nutrition staff. She recognized that nutrition department team members were underpaid and has worked tirelessly to get those frontline workers’ wages increased. Her efforts have been successful; nutrition employees in the district feel more valued and retention rates have greatly improved.

Bock’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are also seen as a large part of the turnaround in the department. DEI efforts in the nutrition department have spurred a higher level of employee satisfaction and overall sense of belonging. She recognized the majority of her staff identify English as their second language and is working to become proficient in the Spanish language.

Danielle Bock is also making a positive impact on the community outside the school cafeterias. She developed a partnership with the Department of Special Education that now provides opportunities for students with intensive functional learning needs to gain real world foodservice experience working in the Nutrition Services Department. These students come to the department’s Central Production Kitchen weekly to individually package fresh produce for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program sites – a win-win for Bock and the students. Her more recent community project is working to establish food pantries in all of the district’s 37 school sites.

Coni Dobbels, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Davenport Community School District, IA

Coni Dobbels, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Davenport Community School District, IA, the Midwest regional Director of the Year

A person who leads by example, Coni Dobbels excels in her role as director, especially during the years of the COVID pandemic. She has enhanced the accessibility of healthy meals to all students in the Davenport Community School District.  At one point, the district supported drive-thru meal pick-up sites at six different locations. Today, they still operate a weekly food distribution site serving approximately 1,800 meals for students engaged in online learning.

Before the pandemic impacted school meal programs, Dobbels wanted to launch a breakfast in the classroom program. Through her hard work and grant applications, she was able to make that happen. The district has seen a 30% increase in breakfast participation since.

Dobbels’ leadership style inspires and empowers her team to serve. Under her guidance, the department started donating unused food to a local homeless shelter to be distributed before school breaks. Share tables have also been set up at 28 schools in the district, and Dobbels worked with the school nurses to ensure those items went to students in need.

She understands that the little things can really add up to provide a positive work environment. Dobbels created an employee of the month program, where employees can nominate each other. She hires motivational speakers for in-service training.  She provides each of the 170 employees personalized birthday cards and has been known to hide “ducks” for staff members to find in the kitchens, just for fun. 

Dobbels often reminds staff that the students are their purpose for the important work they do. She asks for student involvement in menu choices, holding focus groups to hear student concerns and offer menu tastings. She has developed themed meals, working with the school curriculum to support events such as Johnny Appleseed’s birthday and Earth Day. 

As the director of Food and Nutrition Services, Dobbels has had the opportunity to become a Junior Achievement volunteer and teach in several classrooms.

Allison Kimmel, Nutrition Service Director from Marion Center Area School District, PA

Allison Kimmel, Nutrition Service Director from Marion Center Area School District, PA, the Northeast regional Director of the Year

Allison Kimmel has been described as a mentor, visionary and highly effective manager.  When the pandemic forced Marion Center Area School District to close in 2020, Kimmel developed and implemented a drive-thru meal distribution system within three days. It was so successful that over one-third of the student population participated. For those who couldn’t get to the drive-thru distribution, she established a bus delivery meal service to ensure children would be nourished. These programs kept her team working while schools were closed. 

Under her leadership, the school nutrition program has operated in the black. Through her grant writing efforts, Kimmel has been able to replace over $93,000 of old equipment in district kitchens.

Kimmel has been credited with developing the department’s social media presence to promote the team and the meals they prepare for students. Through her efforts, the district has raised its parent and teacher engagement. She has also revitalized Marion Center Area School District’s outdated cafes. Her vision transformed bland spots to areas with colorful walls that have become a popular place to gather.

She also has been able to engage students in taste testing. During National School Lunch Week (NSLW), she has held daily new product sampling for all students and offered gift cards for participation in taste tests. She has set up programs to allow the youngest students to try new fruits and vegetables. Teachers have joined in NSLW activities as well, having students create posters for the walls of the cafes.  

Kimmel serves as a mentor to two other Food Service Directors in the area and has a desire to help others achieve their goals.

Allison Kimmel is very active outside the nutrition department as well. Before the pandemic, she would teach nutrition lessons in classrooms. As a Registered Dietitian, she has partnered with teachers to deliver lessons on topics ranging from food groups and fad diets to reading food labels. Kimmel developed grade appropriate presentations and worksheets for student activities. 

She joins the High School Student Council meetings for the opportunity to listen to student input on current menu items and new menu requests. The nutrition department also holds spirit days to highlight the high school sports teams, a partnership positively linking the nutrition department and student body.  

In the district’s elementary schools, Kimmel created the successful annual events, “Donuts with Dads” and “Muffins with Moms,” that bring families to schools and allow them to experience breakfast menu offerings.  The nutrition department has also become a preferred vendor for special event catering for the district’s sports teams and student groups. These special event bookings help keep the department fiscally sound.

Jessa Youngers, Food Service Director for Great Falls Public Schools, MT

Jessa Youngers, Food Service Director for Great Falls Public Schools, MT, the Northwest regional Director of the Year

Jessa Youngers is described as having great vision and working hard to accomplish goals, one of which was providing improved student access to breakfast. By transitioning some of the district’s traditional cafeteria breakfast programs to Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) programs, she was able to feed an additional 500 students a day.

Youngers has found ways to streamline processes and overcome obstacles from supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages. She has incorporated new technology into daily operations. The district now uses electronic forms and tools for ordering, to better manage inventory and prevent last minute menu changes.

Youngers’ thoughtful insights were used to help the district design kitchens for two new elementary schools and a high school. Her ideas ensured all the needs were accounted for and solutions were in place to maximize efficiencies for staff and students. 

Jessa Youngers has been commended for her dedication to the well-being of her staff. She has brought in experts to provide employees with tools to help cope with stress and self-care. She also recognizes the value of growing leaders from within her team and fosters the professional development and advancement of employees. 

Youngers has worked to develop relationships with district administrators and school staff members outside her department. Her transparency and willingness to help others understand the details and requirements of USDA programs has prompted recognition from school board members.

Jessa Youngers’ role as director doesn’t stop her from working closely alongside team members. She has a history of putting on her apron when there are staffing shortages or delivering supplies needed between schools.

Lisa Thrower, Child Nutrition Director for Yuma School District One, AZ

Lisa Thrower, Child Nutrition Director for Yuma School District One, AZ, the West regional Director of the Year

Thrower is a member of the Yuma School District One Covid Task Force, where she played a vital role in developing plans on how to best handle the impact from the pandemic in classroom settings and mealtime operations.  She requested to be part of the district administration council meetings for the junior high and elementary schools to keep lines of communications open between departments. Thrower has also taught break out sessions during the district’s professional development days, most recently discussing how the nutrition program has adapted to the changes through the pandemic, such as staff shortages and supply chain issues, while still feeding and supporting students and the community.

Constantly thinking about the students and how to improve the school meal program, Thrower implemented student menu testing at several schools as a way to get direct feedback on current and potential new menu offerings. In the winter months, she oversaw a hot chocolate promotion to introduce students to breakfast menus, resulting in an increase in breakfast participation.

Thrower’s involvement with the school district goes beyond the cafeteria walls. Every year, she volunteers her time to be part of the local “Back to School Rodeo” event. She sets up the booth for the child nutrition program and hands out informational material to parents and students, letting them know what to expect when eating in the cafeteria and sharing her passion for the Yuma School District One’s nutrition program. Any time there is a need to promote school nutrition programs, Lisa is there to make sure the community knows about the importance of school meals at all school districts, not just Yuma School District One.

Lisa Thrower knows the importance of communication with staff. She holds bi-weekly meetings to share timely child nutrition issues and program updates. Thrower makes it a point to visit school sites every week to touch base with staff and personally oversee how the program is running to assess if any improvements are needed. Employees say her presence in the schools is essential to the success of the program. Many of the students know her at the school sites and are excited to tell her what they are eating that day for breakfast and lunch.

She also uses social media to communicate with parents and guardians of students in the district. When supply chain shortages caused lunch menus to change, she took photos of the meals offered each day and posted them for all to see. Many families felt it was a useful way to help get the message across to students.

​​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, on Friday, May 6. Students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit www.SchoolLunchHeroDay.com for more information.

In addition to the 10th Anniversary of School Lunch Hero Day, this year also marks the return of the Lunch Lady graphic novels which are being re-released in new, full-color editions along with full-cast audio books featuring Kate Flannery from The Office. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: