How long have you been working in the district?
I’ve been 18 years in the district. I started as a part-time floater right after HS… wherever they needed me, they placed me, and I worked my way up.. From floater to a lead to cook and now the manager. I know every side.
Can you tell us a little bit about the position you hold now and what you have or hope to accomplish in it?
When I was a cook, Rosemary was acting manager at ALMS for 20 years. When I became the cook, it’s so funny. Food service required food safe certification, but cooks didn’t need that. As a cook, I felt it was important to know how to handle food safely. I made it my goal to get them to allow cooks to take that training. They heard me that year, and cooks were able to take the training and get certified as well. It’s about to expire. I hope they will continue. It makes everybody more knowledgeable.
Another thing is that is a lot of people have retired recently. After Rosemary retired, I was acting manager for a good 5 years. I recently passed the civil service exam in February just before the pandemic. I just found I passed. So now I’m the manager.
Why didn’t cooks have the option to take food safety certification if they wanted to?
They could have. But, it’s a costly course. I never understood why managers were eligible to take it but not the cooks. The managers don’t cook anything. It would be more important for the cooks to take it than the managers. It’s weird though… food service is managed by an outside service and the lowest bid gets chosen. That company will have its own set of rules. But, then management also has its own set of rules.. A lot of the time we don’t know which ones to go by or what to follow. Whenever I have a question, I ask Umbro or the office at the HS. But after they retire.. we won’t know who to go to.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of running the food program?
There were challenges even before the pandemic.. After the pandemic, there are even more. The sanitation process is a challenge. What people don’t know is that the cafeteria is not included with the school. When summer comes or any kind of cleaning is involved, cleaners do not go into the kitchen at all. They use a spray bottle.. And we have to use something that is safe to use around food… If we have to sanitize, we can’t. Also, there’s no plexi between register and student. Foodservice has to buy their own supplies.
Was this always true?
The first time I heard that they were spraying down the school, I asked was the servery going to be sprayed down, but that’s not part of the school… But, the kids are touching the surfaces… after a couple of days, Joe got them to do it.
What do you think is the most difficult or the most rewarding part of your work?
Reward? Whenever the school has events or barbecue when I see kids having a good time. I went to Isaac. My favorite part was lunchtime because we got to socialize and talk with friends and de-stress.. Just seeing the kids interact with one another. Now it’s different. They sit there across from a friend and look over at each other. There’s no real interaction.
How is managing different than what you were doing before?
It’s a lot more stressful because you’re dealing with a lot of different personalities. Mostly people can work well together, but sometimes they can’t. I enjoy the training process. We don’t just give people a register and say “Here’s a register. Good luck.” Now.. when we have the time, we can really show people how to do things. And we understand that different people have different styles, and we respect that.
Also, I wouldn’t put them to do something I wouldn’t do myself. If you ever come into the kitchen, you will see. We are all right in there. You will always see… like they say… teamwork makes the dreamwork. We all work together to get it done then we can all relax. We have a great team. I love my ladies. Unfortunately because of the pandemic, a lot of our staff members have left. I don’t know if they will be there if we were to go back. They may have decided it is better to find something else.. Kitchen staff is the lowest paid in the district. Kitchen staff is $13.25 an hour, and they don’t let you work more. So, it’s that versus finding something else.
What are the serious issues facing you today?
One issue is that different companies (that have won the bid) have different procedures. Winston is big on organic locally sourced… but sometimes the menu… the kids don’t eat it. I can understand wanting to get them to try certain things, but why are you making food that they won’t eat? Give them things they enjoy. It doesn’t have to be french fries every day. Before, there was a burger option, a pizza option, the deli.. They took all of that away.. Now it’s two hot items the kids don’t like and a whole wheat pizza.. Whole wheat pizza?! So, we went from serving 800 students a day to half that. The kids are not eating. They are choosing not to eat at all. Also, we like to make our own things.. take pride in what we’re doing. I try to reason with them... If you want to try it out.. Give you a sample so that you know whether you want it or not I don’t mind giving samples.
What motivates or inspires you personally?
My children inspire me. They motivate me and inspire me every day. I pack their lunch every day. They let me know what was wrong with it. If I have a child’s feedback I know more or less how to fix it. My daughter is 7. My son is 9 and the eldest is 19. My young ones are at Columbus.
What is something that you’d like to share that not everyone knows about you?
My mom works at the HS she’s a security guard. Each of my sisters works at a different school. One is a security guard. I think she works for a municipality... We can’t walk down Main street without hearing “Carmen, Carmen, wait.. “ My mom would take us to work... Even before I started at high school … she would take us. I would learn the floor plan.. It was nice. Good memories.