School Nutrition Managers Recognized for Making a Difference

Across the country, school nutrition managers positively impact the children who come through their cafeteria lines for breakfast and lunch each day. The School Nutrition Association’s Manager of the Year award recognizes the dedication, ingenuity and compassion shown by cafeteria managers who have excelled in providing high-quality, nutritious meals to students throughout the school year.

Stacey Birkbeck, Cook Manager for Foxborough Public Schools, MA

Stacey Birkbeck, Cook Manager for John Ahern Middle School in Foxborough Public Schools, Massachusetts, Northeast regional Manager of the Year  

Stacey Birkbeck promotes friendliness and outstanding customer service in the cafeteria with a bubbly, positive and cheerful attitude. She has made the school cafeteria a fun place for students, employees and staff and ensures her customers can choose from a variety of food choices, which has helped increase school meal participation. Birkbeck has taught nutrition lessons for special education students, made pizzas with them and welcomed them into the kitchen to help, build their skills & confidence. Her many efforts have been rewarded with many commendations and thank-you notes from the school community.

With a background in the food service industry, Birkbeck implemented a new management style in the school kitchen. She created a weekly rotating schedule, so staff members are trained on all workstations. The staff stays engaged by rotating through a variety of tasks and can pitch in on any station if a team member is out. Birkbeck’s leadership has fostered a very loyal and dependable team; she is a strong and supportive mentor and gives feedback in an effective but kind way.

Birkbeck and her team always welcome requests for catering or special events, even if they are last minute. Her involvement with the school community extends outside of the cafeteria too. She has been known to take part in faculty versus student basketball games and serves as a scout leader and youth softball coach in the community.

Cheryl Hillberry, Cafeteria Manager for Wetzel County Schools, WV

Cheryl Hillberry, Cafeteria Manager for Long Drain School in Wetzel County Schools, West Virginia, Mid-Atlantic regional Manager of the Year  

Cheryl Hillberry is passionate about feeding students nutritious meals with homemade touches while ensuring those meals follow state and federal guidelines. She is in tune with what the students need in the lunchroom, especially when they are having a tough day. 

Hillberry is innovative as she manages a school-wide approach to the state-required breakfast plan. Her efforts ensure students start the day with warm, healthy breakfast options that are served with a caring and compassionate smile. Hillberry has created a cozy and loving atmosphere for the students to receive meals, as she knows they may not always get that at home.   

Hillberry is known for thinking outside of the box. She provides ideas and suggestions for the school’s fruit and vegetable program, preparing food bags and delivering them to classrooms each afternoon. She employs careful management of the program and has a passion for wellness education.

In addition to her duties in the kitchen, Hillberry is a member of the School Wellness Committee. She works closely with the principal to organize special events for the students and assists with celebrations to reinforce positive student behaviors, like her monthly reward program, “Pepperoni Rolls with the Principal.”

Stacey Carter, Elementary Manager for Highland Park Elementary School for Lee’s Summit R-7, Missouri, the Mountain Plains Regional Manager of the Year

Stacey Carter, Elementary Manager for Lee’s Summit R-7, MO

Stacey Carter is described as a great mentor and manager who has created a cafeteria environment that is welcoming and inviting for students. She educates students about what they are eating and works to serve local produce when available. Carter offers samples to encourage students to try fresh fruits and vegetables in different ways and says she sees less waste when students are aware that local foods and have been grown by members of their community. Some of her recipes with locally grown foods have been standardized for other schools to use.

For holidays, students look forward to a decorated cafeteria, and the staff often dress up to celebrate. Carter wants students and staff to have a positive experience every time they have a meal at school and has worked on menu improvements, such as creating more grab-and-go options so student customers don’t have to wait in line.

Carter is credited with creating a work environment with very low school nutrition team turnover. She takes time to personally train new employees, ensuring they are familiar with the kitchen and the entire school so they feel like part of the school community.

Chantal Parker, Food and Culinary Services Manager for Moore Elementary School in Franklin Special School District, Franklin, Tennessee, Southeast regional Manager of the Year  

Chantal Park, Food and Culinary Services Manager for Franklin Special School District, TN

Chantal Parker promotes teamwork, friendliness and creativity in her kitchen environment despite all of the hard work it takes to produce healthy school meals. The kitchen is decorated for birthdays and special occasions, creating a fun space for the team to work in. Parker regularly interacts with students as they come through the serving lines, asking about their favorite foods and what they’d like offered. By requesting and responding to student feedback, she gives students a sense of ownership of the menu. 

School breakfast is proven to support academic achievement, and Parker’s efforts have been credited with increasing breakfast participation at Moore Elementary.  Her promotional activities, personal invitations to breakfast, creative menu options, and the fun and inclusive environment she creates encourage everyone to start their day with a healthy school breakfast.

Parker makes a point of meeting parents by attending “Meet the Teachers” nights and sharing information about the nutrition program. She often represents the nutrition department at staff meetings to share what is new in the cafeteria. She holds her staff to very high standards of cleanliness, organization and food safety and is always willing to share her knowledge, serving as a mentor to new managers. Parker has undergone extensive child nutrition training and shares her learnings on everything from reducing sodium in seasoning to proper knife skills. When catering school district functions, she goes above and beyond to highlight the culinary skills the staff possesses.  

Megan Walters, Nutrition Services Lead for School District of New Richmond, WI

Megan Walters, Nutrition Services Lead for Hillside Elementary in School District of New Richmond, Wisconsin, Midwest regional Manager of the Year.  

Megan Walters is an advocate for providing all students equitable access to nutritious meals. She is compassionate in her interactions with students, watching out for their well-being and encouraging her staff to get to know students and recognize if they are struggling. Walters knows the importance of a good quality meal and believes that presentation, nutrition and delicious flavors are priorities for every tray served from her kitchen. She creates an inviting and fun environment for students through nutrition promotions, such as National School Lunch Week, National School Breakfast Week, the local “Tasty Travels” feature and holiday celebrations. Thanks to her efforts, meal participation has grown significantly, with school breakfast participation at record levels. 

Walters has assisted with the creation of more scratch meals for multiple school sites, such as homemade taco seasoning and locally grown beef for taco day. She frequently volunteers to lead recipe testing and development and is known for constant positivity and a willingness to advance the school nutrition program. Walters is seen as a motivating leader, speaking to employees and colleagues with a positive attitude, even in tough seasons of life. Under her leadership, staff have been cross-trained to fill in for each other when someone is out. She has fostered a feeling of teamwork among employees and promoted a high level of morale in the kitchen. 

Walters’ care for her students’ nutritional needs does not end when the school day is over. She volunteers time fundraising for the district’s “Happy Kids Backpack” program to provide food for children to take home each weekend and during school break.

Angela Hentges, Child Nutrition Coordinator for Lake Pend Oreille School District #84, ID

Angela Hentges, Child Nutrition Coordinator for Washington Elementary School in Lake Pend Oreille School District No. 84, Idaho, Western regional Manager of the Year.  

Angela Hentges takes great care to get to know each student coming through the school breakfast and lunch lines so they feel special, important, included and welcome in the cafeteria. Hentges is always open to suggestions and ideas to improve nutrition services at the school. She cares about her students and the success of the school nutrition program.

Hentges takes pride in guiding newer managers and helping train new employees. Hentges recognizes her job doesn’t end when the school bell rings. She often participates in community outreach programs to highlight the benefits of nutritious school meals for students and the positive impacts that the meal program provides to families and employees. She volunteers to support the summer meals program and has been known to take daily walks around city beach handing out meal program flyers to local residents to market the program and encourage students to receive nutritious meals in a safe environment.

The Manager of the Year Award is given in honor of Louise Sublette, a leader in school nutrition in her state and the national School Nutrition Association. During her 43 years in the profession, Sublette worked in many areas of food service—public schools, colleges, hospitals and elderly feeding programs. Sublette dedicated her career to honoring school nutrition professionals and ensuring those who work in school cafeterias have access to professional development opportunities, empowering them to help their school meal programs flourish.  

​​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 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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