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Beverly Girard

Beverly Girard

Beverly Girard
Director Food and Nutrition Services
Sarasota County Public Schools
Sarasota, FL.

What's On Girard's Plate?

Students: 42,000

Daily Customers: 34,000

Annual Budget: $17 million

Foodservice outlets: 50

As director of food and nutrition services for Sarasota County Public Schools, Beverly Girard is a champion for nutritional integrity, financial solvency and excellence in all aspects of foodservice management. Her turn-it-around track record at the district over the last decade, her commitment to training as well as the future of child nutrition are just a few of the reasons she's earned her 2006 Silver Plate Award.

While multiple career possibilities have always appealed to Girard, child nutrition has become her true passion. Early on, she earned her undergraduate degree in nutrition from Purdue University and entered the field of clinical nutrition while taking masters classes at Florida International University.

"I was more than halfway through my master's in dietetics and nutrition before I ever heard anything about school nutrition," says Girard.

On reflection, she decided that clinical nutrition didn't suit her personality or career goals. A roommate advised her to follow in the footsteps of her mother, Bronna Godwin, a school nutrition professional. Intrigued, Girard pursued the field of child nutrition and soon took a job as an area supervisor in Palm Beach County schools. She stayed there for more than six years.

"I went back to school for an MBA to learn the business side of things," she says. "As soon as I was finished, I started looking for a director's job." In November 1991, she joined Sarasota.

When Girard assumed her role in the district, the school lunch program was $500,000 in the red. Employee morale was at an all time low and the district was prepared to hire an outside contractor to run the food service.

Girard tackled the many challenges that lay before her first by developing a three-tiered strategy focused on implementation of management controls, systems standardization and nutritional integrity. Within three years, she had reversed the deficit and built a $1 million fund balance. Since then, she has increased revenues each year, growing the department from $6.7 million in 1991 to $17 million today.

"We worked to apply sound business principles to the entire department," says Girard. Employee training has been a key piece of the foundation upon which Girard has built the Food and Nutrition Services program she manages today. Before Girard joined the district, no formal training opportunities existed for Food and Nutrition Services staff.

"Employee training programs seemed to be the best—and most appropriate— vehicle to share my philosophy and vision for the program," says Girard. Training opportunities were developed and are offered to all staff members. A career ladder was introduced for those who desired opportunities for promotion.

"Our employees feel connected to something bigger," she says. "We're viewed as a partner in the school district, as an outstanding resource, and as people who can get the job done with smiles on our faces."

Managing 400 employees at 50 different sites, Girard maintains a consistent commitment to quality foods, sound nutrition, and financial responsibility.

In order to raise participation, Girard focused on providing restaurant quality foods that promote outstanding nutrition in conjunction with nutrition education programs.

Rather than relying on a strict cycle menu, the district develops menus based on continuous monitoring of seasonal availability as well as student preferences. Girard has partnered with local vendors to provide " tasting parties" for students, emphasizing fresh produce, whole grains and variety.

Girard received the Healthy School Hero award in 2002 from the Action For Healthy Kids, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for her department's work in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption by over 60% through a comprehensive nutrition education program.

"Maintaining the integrity of the food—in the way it tastes, smells and looks— is important, especially when your customer base is dominated by students," says Girard. "I believe the cafè is the heart of the school."

According to Girard, school nutrition programs should foster an appreciation of good food in a pleasant atmosphere.

Along with an institutional designer, Girard has helped design and coordinate the opening of 30 new and remodeled cafeteria facilities in the district, emphasizing standardization, production work flow for enhanced efficiency and ease of delivery.

In 1999, Girard started an American Dietetic Association (ADA) school districtbased dietetic internship—one of only two such programs in the country—that focuses on school nutrition. The internship is a 10-month program for college graduates to receive experience and exposure to the field of dietetics and nutrition before they qualify to take their RD examination. The program prepares qualified, credentialed future leaders in child nutrition. Girard currently serves as program director.

Today, Girard's department consistently ranks as one of the highest in terms of customer service scores for all business functions in the school district. Under her direction, it has continued to grow and now annually returns, in excess of the department's cost, $875,000 to the district for overhead and expenses.

"Food and Nutrition Services operates as a business within the school district and I am a great steward of taxpayer dollars," says Girard.

A true believer in personal and professional development—and intrigued by SNA's work on the Global Child Nutrition Forum—Girard will continue to reach for the stars by pursuing an interdisciplinary doctorate in Public Health and Curriculum and Instruction, with a focus on international education programs. She expects to receive her Ph.D. later this year.

When asked to share her secret to success in school foodservice, Girard points to her life motto: No Adults Allowed.

"I'm a strong believer in having fun," says Girard. "We work hard, but we play hard too."

Being The Boss

Before Beverly Girard joined Sarasota County Public Schools as director in 1991, employee morale was at an all-time low. Nowadays maintaining staff morale is one of her highest priorities."When my team is motivated, it motivates me," says Girard. Here are some of her inspirational strategies.
"Whether an employee needs training in a specific area or just needs to be held to higher expectations than in the past, it's your job to work with staff so they feel capable of contributing to the team effort. Building team synergy is what makes a program work."
"The work we do can be difficult and stressful. Whenever possible, we need to interject fun and humor to create a happy and enjoyable work environment. "
"Leading by example is very important, but so is soliciting input, listening, and acting on the ideas of your staff. You must really communicate with people and encourage your administrative staff to do the same. When you dig deeper and find out where people are coming from, it's easier to find a solution."
"I hold my team members directly accountable for their work. When a problem arises, we sit down and find a way to fix it together. But holding people accountable does not mean holding a grudge. If an issue is addressed and resolved, it's forgotten and we move forward. Staff members need to know that a mistake is not a fatal blow to their reputation as long as it is correctly addressed."
"School foodservice, and foodservice in general, is truly a people business. Being gracious and appreciative goes a long way in making others feel valued. Whether it's a simple spoken thank you or a hand-written note, people respond to positive reinforcement."
"Some days, the responsibility of being the leader can be very taxing. However, when you are the leader, you set the tone. You need to do your best to project a positive attitude, regardless of how you feel inside."

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