There's passion for child nutrition, and then there's Joanne Kinsey's kind of passion. Kinsey has spent a nearly 35-year career in the school segment, and the one common theme resonating across her tenures in districts big and small, from North Carolina and Virginia to New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, has been how consistently she has gone beyond the strict interpretation of her job.
She has not only worked hard to make sure the children she is charged with providing lunch to during the school day have good-tasting, nutritious menu choices, but in many cases that they get other meals as well.
These include not only breakfasts but after school snacks, summer meals and even take-home backpack meals for those who might not have regular access to nutritious meals when they are out of school.
In addition, Kinsey has worked actively with community organizations in the districts in which she has served to provide needy families with access to food in the form of food banks and food pantries that she has facilitated through her role with the local school child nutrition program.
In other words, for Joanne Kinsey, child nutrition is not just a strictly demarcated job description, but an open-ended mission. It is for that dedication — as well as for the impressive results she has achieved while overseeing districts of varying size and makeup — that she has been recognized with the 2010 Silver Plate award in the Schools category.
What’s on Kinsey’s Plate?
Annual Budget: $14 million
The funny thing is, Kinsey didn't start out to be a school nutrition professional on the front lines. While she had a strong early interest in food and nutrition, it was from the academic side, and her original career choice was to earn a postgraduate degree and teach.
That changed when a stroke of fate landed her in charge of the on-base schools at the U.S. Marine base at Camp Lejeune, NC. While she admits she knew next to nothing about the day-to-day responsibilities of running a school nutrition program at the time, she quickly learned — and learned to love it.
That experience led her to a series of postings: Carteret County, NC; Portsmouth, NH; Nashua, NH; Allentown, PA; and two separate stints with Chesapeake (VA) Schools, where she currently serves.
Kinsey has brought something to every stop, increasing her impact as her experience and sophistication in how to use the system and its available resources grew.
By the time she got to Allentown, a major urban system with major urban system challenges, she was able to facilitate major investments like installing automated point-of-sale and nutrition analysis programs, and put in significant policy changes like expanding the breakfast program to all schools and increasing the summer foodservice program sites from 23 to 78.
Other achievements during her six years at Allentown included expanding the milk program to include the half-day kindergarteners, putting in the new federally subsidized after school snack program as soon as it became available and establishing two emergency food pantries at school sites to serve the community.
When Kinsey returned to Chesapeake in 2006 (she had earlier spent three years there as a supervising nutritionist), she took up breakfast and summer foodservice expansion. She also instituted a backpack program and worked to expand the summer foodservice program to the community.
She also secured some $24,000 in extra funding through the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Program for nutrition education and to introduce district primary schoolers to different kinds of fresh produce. Ad she got a brand new high school cafeteria built with a state-of-the-art food court that has boosted participation significantly.
Kinsey believes in collaboration not only with community groups but also with her industry as an active member of the School Nutrition Assocaition (SNA). She served as both a regional director and as state president at various times in her career.
First Person Singular...
I started out teaching what was basically home economics in a junior high in Camp Lejeune for the Onslow County Schools while completing my Masters in vocational education at East Carolina University. At that point my goal was to become a college professor because I enjoyed adult education and working with adults and felt a little too restricted in a public school classroom.
I had finished my Masters and would have started my fifth year with Onslow County Schools when the position of director of foodservices at Camp Lejeune was advertised. Some folks who knew my area of interest encouraged me to apply even though at that point I didn’t know anything about school nutrition as a career path. I knew it as a teacher, from the perspective that I would take my students down to the cafeteria for lunch.
Up to that point, the foodservice director position had always been held by a retired military cook, but the new superintendent wanted someone with an education background, someone who knew quantity food production to come in and make changes. He wanted nutrition education, he wanted a totally different slant to the program and he felt he had to hire someone with a background and interest in those areas.
First Person Singular...
I had a cubicle in the superintendent’s office and no staff, not even clerical help, but the staff at the schools were wonderful! Here was this 20-something person who knew nothing about what they did, yet was supposed to be their boss, but they were so willing to help me. I was there four years, loved my job and immediately knew this is where I needed to be because it was the best of both worlds. I was in an education setting but I was working in quantity food production. My staff became my adult learners. I did a lot of training for professional growth and development for all my employees. That’s always been a number one priority for me.
I worked as a sales rep for Bernard Foods in Massachusetts, but after a year that got old. Part of it was the traveling, but it was also the realization, ‘Oh my gosh, now I know what it feels like to sit on the other side of the desk!’ That experience has made me so much more sensitive to salespeople, to make sure I’m professional and treat them with respect.
When you’re actively involved in your professional association you get a whole different world presented to you as well as a broader perspective on operations. In 1999 I was elected the Northeast regional director for the SNA board and served for two years. In the second year I was offered an opportunity to come to Pennsylvania and become director for the Allentown Schools even though I wasn’t really looking for a move. But this is the value of getting involved in leadership, even just regionally. I found out about the job through the regional leadership networks.
Allentown had a much higher free/ reduced rate than I’d ever dealt with before, but I was drawn to that because I was at a point in my career where I felt I could offer them more than I could have before. I was re-energized by the opportunities because there were more programs we were eligible to apply for—and we did.
I expanded breakfast to all the schools in Allentown. Frankly, with 72% free/reduced, we shouldn’t even be asking if we should have breakfast in school. We should just be doing it. I’m a real firm believer in accessing anything that’s available in the form of a food program for children. Right now, breakfast, lunch, after school snack and summer foodservice are all viable programs and school divisions should be taking advantage of these opportunities.
I think USDA is really looking to schools for sponsorship of summer foodservice programs because we already have the expertise in food safety and quantity food production. But it’s an opportunity that’s been greatly underutilized because of the paperwork people think it involves and maybe because it requires some extra work in the summer.
I look at after school and summer programs as opportunities for our staff to get additional hours. Even the after school program will give people some extra hours beyond their workday. Not a lot, but it’s something. Meanwhile, children get the nutrition they need to think better at 3:30 in the afternoon.
I’ve taken some Spanish classes, not just to communicate better with my employees, but also with student families. Because when you’re responsible for approving the free and reduced applications, you get a lot more than just a piece of paper presented to you. You get family histories and circumstances that they’re dealing with.
I think it’s my responsibility to do some of these extra things because I sit in a position where I have that opportunity. I want people to see our department, through me, as that avenue that can make things happen. For example, I’m now on the Nutrition Advisory Board for the food bank here in Southeast Virginia, and we now have backpack programs in three of our schools. That’s because I have a warehouse and a fleet of vehicles, so my trucks are going to be able to go to the food bank to pick up the meals that they’re bagging for the backpacks and then take them to our schools.