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Volume 33, Issue 2, Fall 2009 - Rushing; Nettles; Johnson

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Operational Issues Encountered by School Nutrition Directors in School Districts with Less Than 30,000 Student Enrollment

Keith Rushing, PhD, RD; Mary Frances Nettles, PhD, RD; James T. Johnson, PhD

ABSTRACT

Purpose
To identify operational issues and practices associated with operating school nutrition (SN) programs in school districts with less than 30,000 student enrollment.

Method
The survey was adapted from a similar study that explored operational issues in school districts with enrollments of 30,000 or more students. The survey asked SN directors to indicate their agreement with 52 operational issues and practices related to SN operations in large school districts and provide information about themselves and their SN operations. Surveys were mailed to a random sample of 700 SN directors in school districts with student enrollments of less than 30,000, stratified by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) region. Data analysis included means, standard deviations, and frequencies of total responses.

Results
Two hundred fifty-seven (37%) SN directors completed surveys. Prior to taking their current position, 22.5% of directors had worked on SN management teams and 18.7% worked as SN directors in other school districts. Twenty seven of 52 operational issues and practice statements were rated as a mean of 3.0 or greater, (on a scale from 1-4) by SN directors, suggesting that SN directors agreed that these operational issues and practices were relevant. Operational issues with the highest mean ratings were: “I operate the SN department as a business within the school setting” (3.8 + 0.6) and “I serve as the SN representative with district administration” (3.8 +0.7). Greater than 80% of SN directors indicated that five of the operational issues and practices were performed/encountered very often.

Application to Child Nutrition Professionals
The findings of this study demonstrate that SN directors are business-minded career professionals operating the business of SN within the school setting. It appears that SN directors regardless of district size are facing similar operational issues. However, SN directors in school districts with less than 2,799 in student enrollment may be encountering unique operational issues and practices compared to SN directors in school districts of larger enrollment size.

INTRODUCTION

In the 2005-2006 school year, there were 14,199 school districts, 86,792 schools, and over 48 million students in the United States (Hoffman, 2007). Only 26 of these school districts (less than 1%) enrolled more than 100,000 students, accounting for 10.7% of all students receiving public education. The vast majority of school districts (83.6%) enrolled less than 5,000 students and 73.6% enrolled less than 3,000 students. School districts with student enrollment from 500 to 2,999 students accounted for 44.1% of all U.S. school districts, while those with fewer than 100 students accounted for 7.3% of U.S. school districts.

School districts designate school nutrition (SN) directors to oversee the federally funded SN programs for the school district (Conklin, 2008). In addition to managing the planning, production, and distribution of meals through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, Martin (2008) posits that SN directors should function as nutrition leaders within the school community with a mission of safeguarding the health and well-being of children. The American Dietetic Association suggests that SN directors should position the SN program as an integral part of the total education program (Pilant, 2006).

In order for SN programs to achieve success with these multiple goals, SN directors must possess leadership as well as management skills. SN directors must be business-minded, with skills in finance, marketing, production, purchasing, human resources, nutrition, and technology (DeMicco et al., 1997). Increasing competition from commercial operations, influences from the media, and peer pressure affecting students’ food choices highlight the need for qualified SN directors to effectively lead SN programs (Kramer-Atwood et al., 2002; Kubik, Lytle, Hannan, Perry, & Story, 2003; USDA, 2001).

Since the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) was established, research to identify competencies, knowledge, and skills (CKS) needed by professionals working in SN programs has been a priority. Initial work by Gregoire and Sneed (1994a; 1994b) led to the identification of CKS for SN directors/supervisors (Carr, Cater, & Conklin, 1996). In 2001, the NFSMI CKS statements were updated to reflect current operational trends in school nutrition (Rainville & Carr, 2001). The revised CKS contained 14 functional areas, 41 competencies, and 624 knowledge and skill statements. Functional areas are defined as the broad grouping of job responsibilities that are performed by SN directors and supervisors in school districts. The functional areas for SN directors include the following: (1) customer service, (2) sanitation, food safety, and employee safety, (3) financial management and record keeping, (4) food production, (5) procurement, (6) program accountability, (7) nutrition and menu planning, (8) general management, (9) personnel management, (10) facility layout and design and equipmen selection, (11) environmental management, (12) marketing, (13) computer technology, and (14) nutrition education.

Nettles, Carr, Johnson, and Federico (2008) explored the uniqueness of SN programs in large school districts, (student enrollment of 30,000 or greater) by identifying the operational issues and practices SN directors encounter and describing characteristics of SN directors and the programs they operate. They found that the majority of SN directors (70.5%) had worked in SN programs for more than 15 years and more than two-thirds of SN directors (68%) recommended experience on an SN management team in a large district as a prerequisite to their position. The operational issues and practices identified as the most important by SN directors were effective staffing of management teams, serving as SN representatives with district administrations, and operating departments as businesses within the school settings.

Large school districts only account for a very small percentage of all school districts in the United States. Therefore, it is important to determine if these operational issues and practices of SN directors are common regardless of district size. No research has been done to specifically address smaller districts with student enrollments of less than 30,000. The objectives of this study were to determine the operational issues and practices SN directors encounter in school districts with student enrollment of less than 30,000 and describe characteristics of directors and the programs they operate.

METHODOLOGY

Sample
The sample for this study consisted of 700 SN directors from public school districts with less than 30,000 student enrollment. The study sample was selected from the database of school districts maintained by Market Data Retrieval, a company that specializes in the school market. The random sample of school districts was stratified by USDA region with all states being represented and 100 SN directors selected from each of the seven USDA regions. The enrollment parameter of less than 30,000 students was established to focus the research on all but the largest public school districts in the United States. In an earlier study, Nettles and Carr (2006) defined large school districts as those public school districts with 30,000 or more student enrollment.

Survey Instrument
The survey for this study was adapted from the Nettles and Carr (2006) study that explored similar issues in school districts with enrollments of 30,000 or more students. The original survey was developed from qualitative data obtained during expert panel discussions with seven SN professionals from school districts with 30,000 or greater student enrollment, pilot tested for content validity, and administered to all SN directors in large school districts. The researchers made revisions to the original survey based on suggestions from Nettles and Carr, and to decrease the length of the survey.

SN directors were asked to indicate their agreement with 52 operational issues and practices related to SN operations. Agreement was rated on a 4-point scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Participants also were asked to indicate how often each operational issue and practice was encountered or performed by use of a 4-point scale that ranged from 1 (never) to 4 (very often). In addition, participants were asked to provide information about themselves and their SN operations. The University of Southern Mississippi Institutional Review Board approved the study protocol and survey.

Data Collection
A pre-notice letter was sent to each participant in the study approximately one week before study surveys were mailed. The purpose of the pre-notice letter was to briefly describe the study and notify the study participants that they would be receiving a survey within a few days. One week later, the survey, a cover letter, and self-addressed, postage-paid envelope were mailed to the 700 SN directors in the study sample. The cover letter explained the purpose of the study, asked for their participation, assured them of the confidentiality of their responses, provided researchers’ contact information for questions and concerns, and described the return instructions for the completed survey. No identifying codes were placed on the survey instruments, thus preserving the anonymity of all respondents. Participants were asked to return the completed surveys within a three week time period. A reminder postcard was sent to all study participants one week after sending the initial surveys. The post card encouraged the SN directors to complete and return their survey if they had not already done so.

Data Analysis
Survey data were analyzed using the statistical package SPSS Version 13.0 for Windows. Descriptive statistics included means, standard deviations, and frequencies of total responses. One-way ANOVA with Tukey’s HSD post hoc was conducted to measure the effect of student enrollment on the operational issues statements. Tukey’s HSD is a method of ensuring that the chance of finding a significant difference in any comparison (under a null model) is maintained at the alpha level of the test, preventing a type I error. Due to the number of tests run, Bonferroni Corrections were used to reduce the possibility of a type I error. Additional statistical analyses were planned. The researchers performed principal components factor analysis using the operational issues statements. No cognitive factors were derived; therefore, factor analysis is not reported.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Researchers mailed surveys to the 700 SN directors in public school districts with enrollments of less than 30,000 students selected to participate in the research study. Two hundred fifty seven (37%) directors responded to the survey.

Sample Characteristics
Demographic data for the responding SN directors are presented in Table 1. The majority of SN directors have a baccalaureate degree or higher (62.3%) with their primary areas of study identified as other (24.1%), food and nutrition (21.4%), nutrition and dietetics (20.0%), and business (15.9%). When asked about their certification or credentialed status, 39.3% of SN directors indicated they were School Nutrition Association (SNA) certified, 34.3% were not certified, and 17.8% were State Department of Education certified.

The majority of respondents have worked in SN programs for 16 years or more (51.0%) and in their current position for ten years or less (59.5%). Less than one-fourth (22.5%) of SN directors had worked on the SN management team in a school district prior to taking the SN director position and another 18.7% had worked as an SN director in another school district. Over one-fourth (26.2%) of respondents reported that they will be retiring in the next five years. When asked the type of education and experience they would recommend for their successor, 60.5% of SN directors recommended experience on the SN management team in a school district followed by experience as an SN director in a smaller district (43.6%), undergraduate degree in nutrition (41.2%), and undergraduate degree in business (30.9%).

Two survey questions addressed SN directors’ preferences regarding accessing SN resources and continuing education formats. When seeking resources or information to assist in the operation of their SN program, the majority (85.0%) of SN directors indicated that they prefer both print-based and Web-based resources. The highest rated continuing education formats reported by SN directors were meeting or conference (82.0%), professional development publication/article (42.4%), and independent study (CD ROM, Internet) (30.0%).

Table 1. Personal Characteristics of Respondents

 Question

Frequencya

%

 What is your gender?

 

 

          Female

214

85.9

          Male

35

14.1

 What is your highest level of education?

 

 

          High school diploma or GED

63

25.8

          Associate degree

29

11.9

          Baccalaureate degree

62

25.4

          Some graduate credits

39

16.0

          Master’s degree

32

13.1

         Graduate hours beyond master’s degree

17

7.0

          Doctoral degree

2

0.8

 If you have a Baccalaureate degree or greater, what was your primary area
 of study?

 

 

          Other

35

24.1

          Food and Nutrition

31

21.4

          Nutrition/Dietetics

29

20.0

          Business

23

15.9

          Food Service Management

12

8.3

          Hospitality Management

8

5.5

          Child Nutrition and Management

6

4.1

          Culinary Food Service

1

0.7

 What is your certification/credentialed status?b

 

 

          SNA certified

95

39.3

          Not certified

83

34.3

          State Department of Education certified

43

17.8

          SNS credentialed

42

17.4

          Registered Dietitian

31

12.8

          Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist

18

7.4

 How many years have you worked in SN programs?

 

 

          Less than one year

6

2.4

          1 to 5 years

29

11.6

           6 to 10 years

35

13.9

          11 to 15 years

53

21.1

          16 to 20 years

51

20.3

          Greater than 20 years

77

30.7

 How long have you been in your current position?

 

 

          Less than one year

17

6.9

          1 to 5 years

64

25.7

          6 to 10 years

67

26.9

          11 to 15 years

51

20.5

          16 to 20 years

27

10.8

          Greater than 20 years

23

9.2

 Prior to taking your current position, did you work

 

 

          Other

103

43.6

          On the SN management team in a school district

53

22.5

          As an SN director in a smaller school district

29

12.3

          As a restaurant manager

23

9.7

          As an SN director in a larger school district

15

6.4

          As a healthcare foodservice director

13

5.5

 Will you be retiring in the next five years?

 

 

           Yes

65

26.2

           No

139

56.1

          Not Sure

44

17.7

 In choosing a successor for your position, would you recommendb

 

 

          Experience on the SN management team in a school district

147

60.5

          Experience as an SN director in a smaller district

106

43.6

         Undergraduate degree in nutrition

100

41.2

         Undergraduate degree in business

75

30.9

         Graduate degree in nutrition

41

16.9

         Graduate degree in business

37

15.2

         Experience in foodservice management in   healthcare

28

11.5

 In seeking resources/information to assist in the operation of your
 SN Program, do you prefer

 

 

          Both

210

85.0

          Print-based resources

26

10.5

          Web-based resources

11

4.5

 What form of continuing education do you prefer?b

 

 

          Meeting or conference

205

82.0

          Professional development publication/article

106

42.4

          Independent study (CD ROM, Internet)

75

30.0

          Small study group

70

28.0

          Independent study (video, manuals)

69

27.6

          Online course/distance education

67

26.8

          Blended learning (face-to-face and online)

63

25.2

          Preconference program

61

24.4

          Satellite Seminar

57

22.8

          Academic course work

41

16.4

          Self study program

40

16.0

          Home study course

26

10.4

          Interactive multimedia modules

17

6.8

          Poster session

10

4.0

Note. SN = School Nutrition
a Total N varies based on responses for each question
b Total exceeds 100% since respondents could select more than one response

Characteristics of School Nutrition Programs
SN directors responded to several questions intended to describe their SN program (Table 2). Respondents were from all USDA regions, with the highest percentages from the Mountain Plains (17.9%), Southeast (15.5%), and Midwest (15.2%) regions. Almost one-half (44.4%) of SN directors were employed in districts with less than 2,799 students, while 35.9% and 19.7% of respondents work in districts ranging in size from 2,800 – 9,999 students and 10,000 – 29,999 students, respectively. Two-thirds (66.3%) of directors reported having ten or less feeding sites in their districts, while only 11.6% of respondents are serving 21 or more feedings sites. Over half (55.6%) of SN directors indicated that four or more district-level staff report directly to them and 63.0% reported that district-level SN professional staff oversee site-level operations.

When asked the percentage of total revenue budgeted for food, 31.1% of SN directors reported a range of 36% to 40% and 29.4% of directors indicated a range of 41% to 45%. SN directors also were asked the percentage of total revenue budgeted for labor; 28.4% reported a range of 41% to 45% and another 23.7% specified a range of 46% to 50%.

The majority (87.6%) of SN directors indicated the use of on-site kitchens in their districts and 46.5% reported a central warehouse was utilized for storage of food and supplies. When asked how their SN operation manages foodservice equipment maintenance issues, two-thirds (66.3%) indicate they use a combination of employing their own maintenance staff, relying on district-level maintenance staff, and contracting with an outside firm for maintenance staff. Approximately half (50.6%) of SN directors responded that their SN department relies on district-level technology staff for technology support issues, while another 44.1% use a combination of employing their own technology staff, relying on district-level technology staff, and contracting with an outside firm for technology support. The vast majority (92.5%) of SN operations are using point-of-sale software and many (56.0%) are also utilizing software to support production and other back-of-the-house activities.

Almost one-third (32.9%) of SN directors described their districts as increasing student enrollment over the last five years, while 38.9% of SN directors reported a steady enrollment, and another 28.2% reported decreasing enrollment. SN directors indicated that, in the last five years, their school districts are renovating existing schools (86.6%), building new schools (50.9%), and closing schools (14.7%).

Table 2. Characteristics of Responding School Nutrition (SN) Programs

 Question

Frequencya

%

 In what USDA region do you work?

 

 

          Mountain Plains

45

17.9

          Southeast

39

15.5

          Midwest

38

15.2

          Western

37

14.7

          Southwest

36

14.3

          Mid-Atlantic

29

11.6

          Northeast

27

10.8

 What is the total enrollment in your school district?

 

 

          Less than 2,799 students

110

44.4

          2,800 to 9,999 students

89

35.9

          10,000 to 29,999 students

49

19.7

 How many feeding sites do you serve?

 

 

          5 or less

101

40.6

          6 to 10 sites

64

25.7

          11 to 20 sites

55

22.1

          21 or 30 sites

18

7.2

          31 or greater sites

11

4.4

 How many district-level staff report directly to you?

 

 

          3 or less

67

27.0

          4 to 5

40

16.1

          6 or more

98

39.5

          None

43

17.4

 Do you have district-level SN professional staff overseeing
 site-level operations?

 

 

          Yes

155

63.0

          No

91

37.0

 What percentage of total revenue do you budget for food?

 

 

          35% or less

20

8.5

          36% to 40%

73

31.1

          41% to 45%

69

29.4

          46% to 50%

51

21.7

          51% or greater

22

9.3

 What percentage of total revenue do you budget for labor?

 

 

          35% or less

15

6.5

          36% to 40%

50

21.6

          41% to 45%

66

28.4

          46% to 50%

55

23.7

          51% or greater

46

19.8

 Does your SN operation have a formalized marketing plan?

 

 

          Yes

36

63.0

          No

209

37.0

 Do you benchmark meals per labor hour among the schools in your district?

 

 

          Yes

151

62.9

          No

89

37.1

 What types of foodservice operations are used in your district?b

 

 

          On-site kitchens

218

87.6

          Centralized kitchen serving both off-site and on-site

97

39.0

          Central kitchen with no on-site service

12

4.8

 For hot and/or cold food that is prepared centrally, how is the
 food transported?b

 

 

          Not applicable in my district

105

45.9

          Cold foods delivered in bulk

93

40.6

          Hot foods delivered in bulk

85

37.1

          Hot foods delivered hot

85

37.1

          Cold foods delivered preplated/preportioned

40

17.5

          Hot foods delivered preplated/preportioned

26

11.4

          Hot foods delivered cold to be rethermalized onsite

22

9.6

 Is a central warehouse for storage of food and supplies used in
 your district?

 

 

         Yes

114

46.5

         No

131

53.5

 How does your SN operation manage foodservice equipment maintenance issues?

 

 

         A combination of the choices provided

155

66.3

         SN department relies on district-level maintenance staff for equipment service

53

22.6

         SN department contracts with an outside firm for equipment service

20

8.5

         SN department employs their own maintenance staff to service equipment

6

2.6

        How does your SN operation handle technology support issues?

 

 

        SN department relies on district-level technology staff for support

124

50.6

        A combination of the choices provided

108

44.1

        SN department employs their own technology staff

9

3.7

        SN department contracts with an outside firm for technology support

4

1.6

 Is your SN operation using point-of-sale software?

 

 

         Yes

234

92.5

         No

19

7.5

 Is your SN operation using software to support production and other
 back-of-the- house activities?

 

 

         Yes

141

56.0

         No

111

44.0

 Considering the ethnic diversity of today’s labor pool, do you have
 employees who speak little or no English?

 

 

          Yes

61

24.2

          No

191

75.8

 How would you describe your school district over the last five years?

 

 

          Enrollment steady

98

38.9

          Increasing enrollment

83

32.9

          Decreasing enrollment

71

28.2

 In the last five years, is your school districtb

 

 

          Renovating existing schools

194

86.6

          Building new schools

114

50.9

          Closing schools

33

14.7

 Is the management of your district SN program

 

 

          Self-operated

239

95.2

          Contracted by a food service management company

12

4.8

a Total N varies based on responses for each question
b Total exceed 100% since respondents could select more than one response

Operational Issues and Practices
Respondents were provided 52 statements regarding operational issues and practices related to SN operations and were asked to indicate their agreement with each statement using a scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Table 3 presents the means and standard deviations for the 52 statements in descending order of agreement. Twenty-seven of the 52 statements had a mean rating of 3.01 or greater. Of these 27 statements, 11 statements had a mean rating of 3.61 or greater suggesting that SN directors strongly agreed with these operational issues.

Operational issues with the highest mean ratings were: “I operate the SN department as a business within the school setting” (3.79 + 0.62), “I serve as the SN representative with district administration” (3.77 + 0.67), and “I view my leadership skills as impacting the success of the SN program” (3.77 + 0.46). Operational issues with the lowest mean ratings were: “The SN department utilizes a temp agency for site-level substitute staff” (1.22 + 0.71), “Oversight is required to ensure that the temp agency complies with district Human Resources policies” (1.34 + 0.87), and “The SN department performs human resource functions for other district departments” (1.54 + 0.88).

When one-way ANOVA with Tukey’s HSD post hoc with Bonferroni correction was applied to measure the effect of student enrollment on operational issues and practices, the following five statements demonstrated significance (P<.002): (1)“The SN department employs district-level professional staff to oversee site-level operations,” (2)“Putting together an effective management team is critical to the operational success of the SN department,” (3)“I serve as the SN representative with district administration,” (4)“The school district has a district-wide technology infrastructure,” and (5)“My work schedule is greater than 40 hours per week.” With the first four of these statements, SN directors in school districts with enrollment of less than 2,799, had lower agreement scores compared to SN directors in schools districts with larger enrollment (2,800-29,999). With the fifth statement “My work schedule is greater than 40 hours per week,” SN directors in school districts with less than 2,799 in student enrollment had lower agreement compared to SN directors in school districts with student enrollment between 10,000 and 29,999.

Table 3. Mean Agreement Ratings and Standard Deviations for Operational Issues and Practices Encountered by School Nutrition (SN) Directors

 Statement

N

Meana

SD

 Operate the SN department as a business within the school setting.

 222

 3.8

 0.6

 I serve as the SN representative with district administration.

217

3.8

0.7

 I view my leadership skills as impacting the success of the SN program.

228

3.8

0.5

 I view the SN department as a business within the school setting.

231

3.8

0.6

 I have supervisory responsibilities with site-level employees.

222

3.8

0.6

 Menus are standardized throughout the district.

228

3.7

0.6

 Putting together an effective management team is critical to the operational
 success of the  SN department.

219

3.7

0.6

 Menus are developed by district level SN professional staff.

228

3.7

0.9

 The cost of technology for SN programs continues to increase.

218

3.7

0.5

 The school district has a district-wide technology infrastructure.

213

3.6

0.7

 Menus are planned to meet the needs of a diverse student body.

223

3.6

0.6

 SN department is current with technology practices.

227

3.5

0.7

 I directly supervise district-level SN professional staff.

229

3.5

1.0

 The SN employs district-level professional staff to oversee site-evel operations.

221

3.4

1.0

 District-level SN coordinators/supervisors review site-level employee records
 and document work performance, training, attendance,etc.

221

3.4

1.0

 My work schedule is greater than 40 hours per week.

234

3.3

0.9

 I consider my SN job responsibilities similar to those of a Chief Executive Officer.

222

 3.3

0.8

 I seek professional development opportunities beyond what my school
 district provides to  improve my leadership skills.

235

3.3

0.8

 District administrators support the contribution provided by the SN department.

226

3.3

0.7

 Recruiting and retaining qualified SN professional staff is difficult.

229

3.2

0.8

 The SN department performs human resource functions for SN employees.

225

3.2

0.9

 The volume and complexity of meeting the special nutrition needs of children
 is a challenge.

234

3.2

0.7

 I value the importance of implementing a marketing plan for my SN operation.

217

3.2

0.7

 District administrators view the SN department as a business within the
 school setting.

231

3.2

0.9

 The cost of maintaining current software and hardware in all feeding sites
 is a financial challenge.

231

3.1

0.8

 I am faced with financial challenges to support marketing activities.

234

3.1

0.9

 Recruiting and retaining qualified SN site-level staff is difficult.

234

3.0

0.8

 District-level SN professional staff assures consistency in implementing the
 marketing plan for all school sites.

233

2.9

1.0

 I am faced with SN staff challenges to implement a successful marketing plan.

226

2.9

0.9

 Retaining competent maintenance staff is a challenge.

231

2.9

1.0

 The installation of current software in all feeding sites is a time management
 challenge.

231

2.9

1.0

 My school district provides professional development opportunities that
  support my leadership growth.

220

2.8

1.0

 Understanding the financial aspect of operating the SN program is a
 challenge.

227

2.8

0.9

 I encounter funding challenges related to the food production/transport
 systems used in my district.

216

2.7

1.1

 Lack of understanding of SN program needs by district-level technology staff
 presents challenges.

235

2.7

1.9

 I face operational challenges with inadequate cafeteria dining facilities.

230

2.6

1.0

 I am challenged with employee issues due to lack of support from human
 resources.

 222

2.6

0.9

 The SN department encounters challenges when trying to utilize SN software
 with the district-level technology.

219

2.6

0.9

 I am faced with communication challenges due to the numerous
 organizational layers in the school district.

225

2.6

0.9

 I face operational challenges with inadequate food preparation facilities.

223

2.5

1.0

 I face operational challenges with inadequate foodservice equipment.

234

2.5

1.0

 I am faced with community political challenges in operating the SN program.

234

2.5

1.0

 I am faced with district political challenges in operating the SN program.

231

2.5

1.0

 I am not involved in day-to-day operations at site-level facilities.

220

2.4

1.1

 Retaining competent technology staff is a challenge.

225

2.4

2.0

 Frequent turnover in district-level administration presents challenges.

235

2.4

0.9

 I often encounter challenges with district-level support when trying to
 address disciplinary issues with employees.

230

2.3

0.9

 I am faced with communication challenges due to the numerous
 organizational layers in the SN program.

229

2.2

0.8

 Dealing with labor unions presents challenges.

215

2.0

1.1

 The SN department performs human resource functions for other district
 departments.

227

1.5

0.9

 Oversight is required to ensure that the temp agency complies with district
 Human Resource policies.

194

1.3

0.9

 The SN department utilizes a temp agency for site-level substitute staff.

226

1.2

0.7

a Scale = 1, strongly disagree to 4, strongly agree

Directors were also asked to indicate how often they encounter or perform each operational issue using a scale ranging from 1 (never) to 4 (very often). Table 4 depicts the frequency of performance or how often each operational issue or practice is encountered by the responding SN directors. The majority of directors are performing or encountering the following issues very often: “I serve as the SN representative with district administration” (87.6%), “I operate the SN department as a business within the school setting” (86.9%), “Menus are developed by district level SN professional staff” (83.3%), and “I have supervisory responsibilities with site-level employees” (82.4%). Most SN directors indicate that they never encounter the following issues: “The SN department utilizes a temp agency for site-level substitute staff” (89.4%), “Oversight is required to ensure that the temp agency complies with district Human Resource policies” (85.6%), and “The SN department performs human resource functions for other district departments” (67.4%).

Table 4. Frequency of Performance of Operational Issues and Practices

 Statement

Very Oftena,b

Sometimes

Rarely

Never

 I serve as the SN representative with district 
 administration.

190c,d

(87.6)

13

(6.0)

6

(2.7)

8

(3.7)

 I operate the SN department as a business
 within the school setting.

193

(86.9)

19

(8.6)

3

(1.4)

7

(3.2)

 Menus are developed by district level SN
 professional staff.

190

(83.3)

18

(7.9)

1

(0.4)

19

(8.3)

 I have supervisory responsibilities with
 site-level employees.

183

(82.4)

28

(12.6)

6

(2.7)

5

(2.3)

 I view the SN department as a business
 within the school setting.

189

(81.8)

34

(14.7)

3

(1.3)

5

(2.2)

 Menus are standardized throughout the
 district.

182

(79.8) 

32

(14.0)

11

(4.8)

3

(1.4)

 I view my leadership skills as impacting the
 success of  the SN program.

179

(78.5) 

45

(19.7)

4

(1.8)

0

(0.0)

 Putting together an effective management
 team is critical to the operational success
 of the SN department.

164

(74.9)

45

(20.5)

5

(2.3)

5

(2.3)

 I directly supervise district-level SN
  professional staff.

167

(72.9)

26

(11.4)

11

(4.8)

25

(10.9)

 The school district has a district-wide
 technology infrastructure.

153

(71.8) 

44

(20.7)

13

(6.1)

3

(1.4)

 The SN department employs district-level
 professional staff to oversee site-level
 operations.

158

(71.5)

26

(11.8)

13

(5.9)

24

(10.8)

 The cost of technology for SN programs
 continues to  increase.

153

(70.2)

58

(26.6)

5

(2.3)

2

(0.9)

 Menus are planned to meet the needs of a
 diverse student body.

153

(68.6)

56

(25.1)

12

(5.4)

2

(0.9)

 District-level SN coordinators and supervisors
 review site-level employee records and
 document work performance, training,
 attendance, etc.

143

(64.7)

37

(16.7)

22

(10.0)

19

(8.6)

 SN department is current with technology
 practices

128

(56.4)

84

(37.0)

12

(5.3)

3

(1.3)

 My work schedule is greater than 40 hours
 per week.

132

(56.4)

58

(24.8)

31

(13.2)

13

(5.6)

 I consider my SN job responsibilities similar to
 those of a Chief Executive Officer.

112

(50.5)

78

(35.0)

21

(9.5)

11

(5.0)

 The SN department performs human resource
 functions for SN employees.

105

(46.7)

83

(36.9)

18

(8.0)

19

(8.4)

 I seek professional development 
 opportunities beyond what my school
 district provides to improve my leadership
 skills.

106

(45.1)

101

(43.0)

22

(9.4)

6

(2.5)

 Recruiting and retaining qualified SN
 professional staff  is difficult.

96

(41.9) 

93

(40.6)

34

(14.9)

6

(2.6)

 District administrators view the SN
 department as a  business within the
 school setting.

95

(41.1)

94

(40.7)

30

(13.0)

12

(5.2)

 I am faced with financial challenges to
 support marketing activities.

94

(40.2) 

84

(35.9)

40

(17.1)

16

(6.8)

 District administrators support the
 contribution provided by the SN
 department.

90

(39.8)

110

(48.7)

23

(10.2)

3

(1.3)

 The cost of maintaining current software and
 hardware in all feeding sites is a financial
 challenge.

88

(38.1)

95

(41.1)

38

(16.5)

10

(4.3)

 I value the importance of implementing a
 marketing plan for my SN operation.

76

(35.0)

110

(50.7)

26

(12.0)

5

(2.3)

 The volume and complexity of meeting the
 special nutrition needs of children is a
 challenge.

81

(34.6)

120

(51.3)

32

(13.7)

1

(0.4)

 Retaining competent maintenance staff is
 a challenge.

78

(33.7)

72

(31.2)

57

(24.7)

24

(10.4)

 Recruiting and retaining qualified SN
 site-level staff is difficult.

74

(31.6) 

98

(41.9)

52

(22.2)

10

(4.3)

 District-level SN professional staff assures
 consistency iin implementing the marketing
 plan for all school sites.

73

(31.3)

92

(39.5)

45

(19.3)

23

(9.9)

 The installation of current software in all
 feeding sites is a time management
 challenge.

68

(29.4)

83

(35.9)

59

(25.5)

21

(9.2)

 My school district provides professional
 development opportunities that support
 my  leadership growth.

65

(29.5)

79

(35.9)

50

(22.8)

26

(11.8)

 I face operational challenges with inadequate
 cafeteria dinning facilities

56

(24.3)

68

(29.6)

70

(30.4)

36

(15.7)

 I am faced with SN staff challenges to
 implement a successful marketing plan.

56

(24.8) 

109

(48.2)

44

(19.5)

17

(7.5)

 Understanding the financial aspect of
 operating the SN program is a challenge.

54

(23.8)

98

(43.1)

49

(21.6)

26

(11.5)

 I am not involved in day-to-day operations at
 site-level facilities.

51

(23.1)

60

(27.2)

44

(20.0)

65

(29.5)

 Lack of understanding of SN program needs
 by district-level technology staff presents
 challenges.

47

(20.0)

84

(35.7)

81

(34.5)

23

(9.8)

 I face operational challenges with inadequate
 food preparation facilities.

44

(19.8)

69

(30.9)

71

(31.8)

39

(17.5)

 I am faced with community political challenges
 in operating the SN program.

44

(18.8)

67

(28.6)

89

(38.1)

34

(14.5)

 I am challenged with employee issues due to
 lack of support from human resources.

41

(18.5)

82

(36.9)

70

(31.5)

29

(13.1)

 I face operational challenges with inadequate
 foodservice equipment.

43

(18.4)

71

(30.3)

86

(36.8)

34

(14.5)

 I am faced with district political challenges in
 operating the SN program.

39

(16.9) 

72

(31.2)

75

(32.5)

45

(19.5)

 The SN department encounters challenges
 when trying to utilize SN software with the
 district-level technology.

36

(16.4)

84

(38.4)

69

(31.5)

30

(13.7)

 I am faced with communication challenges
 due to the numerous organizational layers
 in the school district.

32

(14.2)

92

(40.9)

74

(32.9)

27

(12.0)

 Retaining competent technology staff is a
 challenge.

29

(12.8) 

80

(35.6)

63

(28.0)

53

(23.6)

 I often encounter challenges with
 district-level support when trying to address  
 disciplinary issues with employees.

27

(11.7)

64

(27.8)

91

(39.6)

48

(20.9)

 Frequent turnover in district-level
 administration presents challenges.

27

(11.5)

60

(25.5)

117

(49.8)

31

(13.2)

 Dealing with labor unions presents
 challenges.

24

(11.2)

51

(23.7)

31

(14.4)

109

(50.7)

 I encounter funding challenges related to the
 food production/transport systems used in
 my district.

16

(8.2)

6

(3.1)

6

(3.1)

166

(85.6)

 Oversight is required to ensure that the
 temp agency complies with district Human
 Resource policies.

16

(8.2)

6

(3.1)

6

(3.1)

166

(85.6)

 The SN department utilizes a temp agency for
 site-level substitute staff.

11

(4.9)

4

(1.7)

9

(4.0)

202

(89.4)

 I am faced with communication challenges
 due to the numerous organizational layers in
 the SN program.

11

(4.8)

63

(27.5)

106

(46.3)

49

(21.4)

 The SN department performs human resource
 functions for other district departments.

11

(4.8) 

26

(11.5)

37

(16.3)

153

(67.4)

Note. SN = School Nutrition
a Items are reported in descending order based on the “very often” percentages
b Responses were made using the scale, 1 = never; 2 = rarely; 3 = sometimes; 4 = very often
c Number responding (percentage)
d Total N varies based on responses for each question

CONCLUSIONS AND APPLICATIONS

The results of this study provide insight into the positions of school nutrition (SN) directors in schools with less than 30,000 in student enrollment. The majority (51.0%) of SN directors responding to this study had worked in school nutrition programs for more than 16 years, and most (59.5%) had been in their current position for 10 years or less. Prior to taking their current position, 22.5% of these SN directors had worked on SN management teams and 18.7% had worked as SN directors in other school districts. These results suggest that the position of SN director in school districts is often not an entry-level management position.

SN directors reported that their primary areas of study in college were food and nutrition (21.4%), nutrition and dietetics (20.0%), and business (15.9%). When asked to identify criteria for choosing a successor to their current position, 60.5% of these SN directors recommended experience on an SN management team, 43.6% recommended experience as an SN director in a smaller district, 41.2% recommended an undergraduate degree in nutrition, and 30.9% recommended an undergraduate degree in business. These results suggest that a baccalaureate degree in a food, nutrition, or business combined with managerial experience in school nutrition is a desirable background for an individual pursuing an SN director position.

When SN directors were asked about their certification or credentialed status, 39.3% indicated they were SNA certified, 17.8% indicated they were state department of education certified, 17.4% were SNS credentialed, and 12.8% were registered dietitians. When the same SN directors were asked their preferences regarding information to assist them in the operation of their SN program, 85% indicated they preferred both print-based and Web-based resources. When asked about preferred continuing education formats, 82% of SN directors selected meeting or conference, while 42.4% selected professional development publication/article, and 30.0% selected independent study with CD ROM or the Internet. These results suggest that many SN directors recognize the need for lifelong learning and value certification or credentialing. Also, many SN directors are self-directed in seeking continuing education, and most SN directors participate in continuing education activities away from work.

Respondents to this study represented the seven USDA regions with school enrollment size ranging from less than 2,799 to 29,999 and number of feeding sites ranging from less than five to 31 or greater. Within these study parameters it was observed that there was a strong agreement between operational issues and practices encountered by SN directors with the exception of SN directors in school districts with 2,799 or less student enrollment. SN directors in these smallest school districts demonstrated significantly less agreement with SN directors in the larger school districts on five operational issue and practice statements: “The SN department employs district-level professional staff to oversee site-level operations” (p<.002), “Putting together an effective management team is critical to the operational success of the SN department” (p<.002), “I serve as the SN representative with district administration” (p<.002), “The school district has a district-wide technology infrastructure” (p<.002), and “My work schedule is greater than 40 hours per week” (p<.002). Some of these differences may be related to the size of these school districts and related resources of the SN program.

When results from this study were reviewed with results of the previous study by Nettles and Carr (2006) investigating SN directors in districts with 30,000 or greater student enrollment, several items were noted. Twenty-six percent of SN directors in school districts with less than 30,000 student enrollment reported they would be retiring in the next five years compared to 36.9% of SN directors in school districts with 30,000 or greater student enrollment. This suggests a growing need to develop new leaders to replace those SN directors that will be retiring in the near future.

SN directors in this and the Nettles and Carr (2006) study had similar agreement levels with operational issues and practices encountered. When the mean agreement ratings for the operational issues and practices faced by SN directors were visually compared, it was observed that SN directors in all size school districts rated nine of the same operational issues and practices within the top ten. This result suggests that SN directors in most school districts, regardless of size, encounter similar operational issues and practices.

As noted earlier, several differences were observed between SN directors in the smallest school districts (less than 2,799) and SN directors in the larger school districts (30,000 or greater). Furthermore, almost one half of SN directors responding to this study (44.9%) were from school districts with less than 2,799 students and 73.6% (reported by Hoffman, 2007) of all school districts enroll less than 3,000 students. This clearly demonstrates that SN directors in the smaller school districts make-up a significant amount of all SN directors, yet the operational issues and practices they encounter appear to be somewhat different from that of the larger school districts captured in this study. Therefore, further research may be needed in school districts with less than 2,799 in student enrollment to determine the specific issues and practices encountered by these SN directors.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This manuscript has been produced by the National Food Service Management Institute – Applied Research Division, located at The University of Southern Mississippi with headquarters at The University of Mississippi. Funding for the Institute has been provided with federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service to The University of Mississippi. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The University of Mississippi or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

The information provided in this manuscript is the result of independent research produced by NFSMI and is not necessarily in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) policy. FNS is the federal agency responsible for all federal domestic child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program. Individuals are encouraged to contact their local child nutrition program sponsor and/or their Child Nutrition State Agency should there appear to be a conflict with the information contained herein, and any state or federal policy that governs the associated Child Nutrition Program. For more information on the federal Child Nutrition Programs please visit www.fns.usda.gov/cnd.

REFERENCES

Carr, D. H., Cater, J., & Conklin, M. T. (1996). Competencies, knowledge, and skill statements for district school nutrition directors/supervisors. University, MS: National Food Service Management Institute.

Conklin, M. T. (2008). Human resources. In J. Martin & C. Oakley (Eds). Managing child nutrition programs: Leadership for excellence. (p. 228). Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc.

DeMicco, F. J., Williams, J. A., Oh, H., Maurice, W. D., McElwain, P., & Boss, D. (1997). In search of school food service leaders: The next Millennium, School Food Service Research Review, 2(1), 2-4.

Gregoire, M. B., & Sneed, J. (1994a). Competencies for district school nutrition directors/supervisors. School Food Service Research Review, 18(2), 89-100.

Gregoire, M. B., & Sneed, J. (1994b). Continuing education of district school nutrition directors/supervisors. School Food Service Research Review, 18(1), 16-22.

Hoffman, L. (2007). Numbers and types of public elementary and secondary schools from the Common Core of Data: School year 2005-06 (NCES 2007-354rev). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved June 27, 2008, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007354

Kramer-Atwood, J., Dwyer, D. M., Hoelscher, T., Nicklas, R. K., Johnson, L., & Schulz, G. K. (2002). Fostering healthy food consumption in schools: Focusing on the challenges of competitive foods. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(9), 1228–1233.

Kubik, L., Lytle, P. J., Hannan, C. L., Perry, M., & Story, M. (2003). The association of the school environment with dietary behaviors of young adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 93(7), 1168–1173.

Martin, J. (2008). Leading and managing child nutrition programs for long-time success. In J. Martin & C. Oakley (Eds). Managing child nutrition programs: Leadership for excellence. (p. 29). Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc.

Nettles, M. F., Carr, D. H., Johnson, J. T., & Federico, H. A. (2008, Fall). Exploring operational issues and practices of school nutrition programs in large school districts. The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, 32(2).

Pilant, V. (2006). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Local support for nutrition integrity in schools. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106, 122-133.

Rainville, A. J., & Carr, D. H. (2001). Competencies, knowledge, and skill statements for district school nutrition directors/supervisors. University, MS: National Food Service Management Institute.

United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service (2001, January). Foods sold in competition with USDA school meal programs: A report to Congress. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from: http://www.cspinet.org/nutritionpolicy/Foods_Sold_in_Competition_with_USDA_School Meal_Programs.pdf

BIOGRAPHY

Rushing, Nettles, and Johnson are, respectively, Assistant Professor for the Department of Nutrition and Food Systems, Research Scientist for the National Food Service Management Institute Applied Research Division, and Director and Research Consultant for the Center for Research Support at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS.


 
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