The Florence One School District in South Carolina saw a major turnaround in its school meal program last year after Chartwells K12 took over managing it, and the success has continued even after the coronavirus forced district schools to shut last spring.
In the 2019-2020 school year, the Florence One district foodservice program netted its first surplus—to the tune of $500,000—in five years, thanks to a 7% jump in the number of students eating breakfast and a 16% increase in students eating lunch. In addition, a new dinner program served more than 62,000 meals in its first six months.
Meanwhile, since the coronavirus-imposed shutdown, the program—starting less than 24 hours after schools closed on March 15—dished out more than 700,000 meals, including more than 75,000 a week through the end of May thanks in part of $29,000 in grant funding from organizations like No Kid Hungry and GenYouth. Grab-and-go meals were provided at 19 school sites and delivered to another 21 sites around the community. Then, over the summer, seven-day meal kits were made available at multiple schools and 42 sites across the community.
The increases were due to improvements made by Chartwells K12, including menu enhancements, an investment of $450,000 on upgrades to kitchen equipment and supplies and another $123,000 on repairs to existing kitchen equipment. Chartwells also implemented the Nutrislice online menu platform, added an executive chef—Corey Green, who comes from a higher-education background and has been a culinary instructor—and provided 100-plus hours of training for staff on subjects ranging from culinary basics and food safety to maintaining production records and customer service protocols.
This fall, with the district conducting both in-person and at-home classes, the meal program is serving breakfast and lunch in open school cafeterias and in classrooms, thanks to another $8,000 in grant funding for classroom delivery programs. Meanwhile, at-home learners receive take-home meals and multiday meal kits.
The district has an enrollment of around 16,200 with 24 school sites including three high schools.
Chartwells Regional VP Genie Caroselli spoke to FM about meal service this fall in Florence One schools:
“On campus, we have a combination of a number of different service models in play. Some students are being served in the cafeteria, some get bagged meals and take them to the classroom and others pick up meals and eat them in designated school locations. These on-campus students also have the opportunity, if they choose, to receive what we call an e-learning meal that they can take home with them for the next instructional day.
[For those learning at home] we have a full delivery model, so we’re doing five-day kits [with] five breakfasts and five lunches. We have a multitude of pickup locations throughout the community and also at some of our school sites, and we’re producing all of those in-house, meaning at one of our locations, because it’s important to us that we’re getting kids fresh food. We didn’t especially want to go through an entire year of shelf-stable meals, so it’s really a mixture of different items, from fresh fruits, fresh sandwiches, heat-and-serve items that come with instructions. We don’t want there to be fatigue, we want them to have the same experience, or close to it, that they would have if they were still in school.
They are separate menus with many of the same items. A lot of it has to do with packaging and shelf life, and it’s really more of a combination of grab-and-go items that are built into these five-day kits.
Photo: Chartwells has been emphasizing fresh, often scratch-made meal choices in its meal service at Florence One schools.
[For in-school] we’re definitely doing hot meals. What we’ve basically identified as six basic service models, we have most of those going on, so we’re delivering cold and hot meals to the classroom, we are delivering cold and hot meals to the lunchroom and we’re also having full cafeteria service lines so kids can actually come down and they have many of the same choices that they would in a pre-COVID environment. Then, depending on social-distancing rules, they will either eat in the cafeteria, bring it back to the classroom or some other designated area where social distancing is possible within the school campus itself.”
Dr. Richard O’Malley, who came from New Jersey to take over as superintendent of Florence District One in 2019, spoke to FM about the changes in the meal program and the decision to outsource the previously self-operated department:
“Running a school district, I don’t just focus on academics, I want to make sure that all the operations—whether it’s bus service or food service—are running well. Food service was one area where we felt we had opportunities to change. In my experience, there were a lot of things we weren’t doing here or did not have that we had the opportunity to change. So we’ve made a significant investment in really trying to provide options for kids. I think for K to 12, the opportunities for kids to have different choices in food and healthier versions of options for quick grab and go rather than just the standard lunch meal should be provided. As for online, our menus really were just a bad version of Word documents that people rarely looked at. Now, with the change to Nutrislice, we’ve got everything on there. It shows the calories and [components] for students with special dietary needs.
Photo: One option for in-school learners is bagged meals they can take to the classroom or seating areas around the school.
We made significant investments because these things are almost like running a business, there’s research and development and we had to make significant upgrades of almost half a million dollars into all of our kitchens and more repairs to our kitchen equipment because if you’re going to deliver these kinds of results on food and options, just like my teachers in the classroom, I’ve got to give them the resources to do this.”
Genie Caroselli on the program turnaround:
“There was a lot of commitment from Dr. O’Malley and the administration and the main directive that we received was to focus on student engagement, to make the program about the kids, to improve that piece of their day in the same way that the district was looking for opportunities to improve the overall educational experience for students. So that’s where we started. It was about training for all the employees so they can have that same focus on customer service and food quality, scratch cooking techniques, expanding our menu choices. We also had the opportunity to look at each of the schools and see who was eligible for CEP. We ended up putting seven schools on the CEP program.”