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The improved financial standing has supported nutrition employees directly as well, increasing salaries and making more staff members eligible to receive insurance benefits.

SNA Recognizes Award Recipients and School Lunch Heroes

In celebration of School Lunch Hero Day on May 5, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) honored three national award recipients and an array of regional award winners.

In celebration of School Lunch Hero Day on May 5, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) recognized the widespread efforts of school nutrition professionals across the country while also revealing its annual regional and national awards winners.

“School nutrition professionals provide millions of children with the healthiest meals of their day and do so with kindness and compassion,” said SNA President Lori Adkins, MS, SNS, CHE. “We celebrate the positive impact they are making on students day in and day out and their unwavering dedication to their school nutrition programs.”

School nutrition employees, managers and directors were nominated for awards at the state level, and those winners were considered for awards within seven regions across the country. Of those regional winners, the following were selected as SNA’s 2023 national award recipients:   

Connie Kingsley, Inventory Specialist for Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in Missouri, has earned the national Employee of the Year award.

She came out of retirement when the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District needed assistance in the nutrition services office. As a former school nutrition manager, Kingsley uses her knowledge of the ordering system and familiarity with school food supplies and products to help the department overcome challenges. Through constant product shortages and supply chain issues, Kingsley communicates with nutrition staff on substitutions, new products and code changes to relieve some stress from managers and make their ordering easier. Kingsley is very organized, efficient and dependable - she works closely with the warehouse crew to ensure product levels and inventory are correct, that items are rotated and orders are pulled accurately, and she helps organize files and supplies. Through her careful tracking, Kingsley has been instrumental in ensuring the district received proper credit for thousands of dollars owed from distributors.

Kingsley also serves as the nutrition department representative for the district Employee Wellness Program. She shares with co-workers important information about their health insurance and supports well-being challenges offered. Kingsley is known for encouraging co-workers on the importance of taking care of themselves to better serve their students.

Cecelia Ann Araiza, Manager for Madison Park Middle School in Madison School District in Arizona, has earned the national Manager of the Year award.   

Araiza has worked in Madison School District for more than two decades and her passion and dedication show in everything she does. She has created a positive environment in the cafeteria and kitchen for students and staff. Araiza teaches her students about locally grown fruits and vegetables served in their lunches, has hosted farmer's markets and adopted a calf through a dairy education program. She hosts events to promote the benefits of school meals, participating in National School Lunch Week and National School Breakfast Week each year and engaging students with kitchen tours.

Araiza teaches nutrition education classes and cooking lessons and runs a successful after-school culinary club for students in grades 5-8. She helps them learn how to read recipes and prepare meals using common ingredients. Recognizing it can be expensive to buy fresh vegetables, she shares tips with the students about substitutions with canned or frozen vegetables. Araiza started an after-school gardening club for students. She has also been able to bring new nutrition education programs to her school, working with Arizona Department of Education resources.

Araiza makes sure each kitchen staff member is successful and happy in their position, sharing her knowledge to help employees advance their careers and find their passion. A sign of success for Araiza is the high retention rate of her team. She has taken management classes and conflict resolution classes to improve her own skills and then passes along what she has learned to co-workers.

Patsi Gregory, SNS, School Nutrition Program Supervisor for Robertson County Schools in Tennessee, has earned the national Director of the Year award.

When Patsi Gregory started her career in the district, she worked to balance inequities across school meal programs that were causing dissatisfaction among students, parents and community partners. Each school was creating separate menus and purchasing ingredients of different quality, so Gregory helped develop district-wide cycle menus and evened out the staffing. Implementing these changes while increasing training among staff resulted in a 28% increase in meal participation and helped the district grow from having zero fund balance to maintaining the recommended three months emergency fund.

The improved financial standing has supported nutrition employees directly as well, increasing salaries and making more staff members eligible to receive insurance benefits. To help retain staff through a tough labor market, Gregory established a new pay scale to compensate long-term employees and recognize the value of employees with commercial food service experience. Her efforts have improved morale and reduced the turnover rate.

Recognizing many households in the school district do not have access to quality internet service to view menus, Gregory mails a monthly newsletter with menus and fun, educational activities for parents and guardians to interact with students. She also developed a Facebook page to increase the visibility of the program to the community.

SNA is also recognizing these regional award winners:

Employee of the Year:

Mid-Atlantic:  Paola Francisco, West New York School District, NJ

Midwest:  Jeannette Barteck, School District of La Crosse, WI

Northeast:  Doreen McHugh, Groton Public Schools, CT

Southeast:  Pamela Heesh, Houston County Public Schools, GA

Southwest:  Shelley Marriott, Ogden School District, UT

Western:  Alejandrina Zepeda, Woodburn School District #103, OR

Manager of the Year:

Mid-Atlantic:  Cheryl Hillberry, Wetzel County Schools, WV

Midwest:  Megan Walters, School District of New Richmond, WI

Mountain Plains: Stacey Carter, Lee’s Summit R-7 Schools, MO

Northeast:  Stacey Birkbeck, Foxborough Public Schools, MA

Southeast:  Chantal Parker, Franklin Special School District, TN

Western:  Angela Hentges, Lake Pend Oreille School District No. 84, ID

Director of the Year:

Mid-Atlantic:  Lisa Winter, SNS, Norfolk Public Schools, VA

Midwest:  Stephanie Hawkins, Fairfield Community School District, IA

Mountain Plains: Craig Schneider, Poudre School District, CO

Northeast:  Jeanne Johnson, SNS, Dedham Public Schools, MA

Southwest: Rachel Roybal-Rogers, Mora Independent School District, NM

Western:  Lynne Shore, Willamina School District, OR

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