Education column: Cafeteria staff deserves appreciation

What’s cookin’ at the Clovis Municipal Schools? Lots of breakfasts and lunches. Funny how school meals are one of those things we tend to take for granted.

Around the time of World War I (1914-1917) school lunches began to be served to children in many of our larger cities as “nutrition scientists” started looking at the overall welfare of children in schools. The School Lunch Committee of the Home and School League in Philadelphia provided a weekly menu of lunches, such as “baked beans and roll for 5 cents; cocoa or milk for 2 cents; crackers or ice cream for 1 cent.”

Today’s school cafeteria meals are much more elaborate than in former times, and they are prepared according to strict guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Paul Klein, Director of Child Nutrition for Clovis Schools, heads up our food services department, aided indispensably by Sharon Garcia and Doris Bolton.

Klein was involved with the food industry for many years before coming to work for the Clovis Schools about six years ago. Klein is very personable, with a calm, soft-spoken manner about him, his conversation always laced with humor. This seems surprising for one who functions daily in a very stress-laden department, that of preparing and serving between 11,000 and 12,000 school meals every day with a staff of only about 65 individuals.

Sounds incredible, but Klein described it differently: “We have a great staff who put their heart and soul into what they cook. They really care about the kids. I don’t know of any of our staff that do not want to be doing what they’re doing. Each kitchen is its own territory, with its own system, and it just flows. They stick together as a team, and we have very little turnover in staff. Parents are always welcome to come and eat with their kids. For adults, the price is only $3, and we always like the input we get.”

Logistics can also be challenging, making sure the food gets ordered and delivered in a timely fashion. The food comes from vendors, and certain commodities come from the USDA.

“The vast majority of product is name-brand, not just generic,” Klein said. “The schools still make their own dinner rolls, cookies, and cakes from scratch, too.”

Since last year, Klein and his staff have faced additional logistical challenges with ongoing construction at school sites.

“Since we’ve had no cafeteria at Marshall Middle School, we prepare breakfast (over 300) and lunch (close to 600) at the high school and transport them every day. We have special food carriers, warmers, coolers, and we serve in one of the gyms, using the booths from the old cafeteria.”

The same transport is required for La Casita, still undergoing construction, whose food is prepared at Lincoln-Jackson Family Center’s cafeteria and transported twice a day.

For more info, go to http://www.clovis-schools.org/food_service/index.html — and, by the way, next time you bump into that cafeteria lady, don’t forget to give her a hug.

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy@clovis-schools.org