Food and Child Nutrition Services,
Dallas Independent School District,
Success in school foodservice means never having to say, "I'm finished." That attitude certainly works for Dora Rivas, the newly appointed director at Dallas (TX) Independent School District (DISD).
As director at Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) from 1985-2005, Rivas achieved national recognition for her innovative contributions to the school foodservice program there. Under her leadership, BISD was one of the first large districts in the nation to implement and champion the Special Assistance Provision II Program.
In other progressive efforts, Rivas introduced new technology to improve production and service productivity and new training opportunities to upgrade the skills of staff. It was in recognition for such innovations that BISD earned a USDA Best Practice Award for innovative practices in strategic planning and creative menu planning, and Rivas received a USDA Best Practice Award for piloting the "Breakfast in a Bag Program."
Further, for the past twelve years, BISD has been recognized as a Program of Excellence by the Texas Association for School Nutrition (TASN). Rivas was also one of six professionals appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry to the state's Joint Interim Study Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools.
Nutrition has been a lifelong interest for Rivas. It was when her father, a Texas dairy farmer, became an adult onset diabetic, that she chose to pursue a career in nutrition.
"When I worked at Valley Baptist Medical Center as an administrative dietitian I found that chronic illnesses, like my father's, weren't uncommon," says Rivas. "These types of illnesses are often the result of a poor diet. I decided then that I wanted to work more on preventive nutrition with young people, so that they could avoid such outcomes."
When a dietitian position opened in 1977 at BISD, Rivas shifted career gears and joined the team to help with menu planning and nutritional education. Over the next several years, she learned the ins and outs of the Brownsville program. By the time she was named director of foodservice in 1985, she was ready to face the full range of its challenges.
With a background in administrative dietetics, Rivas knew she had the basic managerial training she needed, but decided to strengthen those skills by getting her masters in institutional management.
"A willingness to keep on learning can be an important key to helping school nutrition directors and their programs successful," she says.
In the out-front category, Rivas implemented Provision II, which allowed her to offer universal free meals to all students in the district. In doing so she removed the social stigma of receiving free lunch and increased student participation by 94 percent in elementary, 84 percent in middle, and 72 percent in high school. As one of the first schools to take that leap, her positive experience helped many other schools nationwide to adopt the same kind of program.
The increased participation also helped generate an additional $10 million in revenue, that Rivas, with careful planning, used to renovate 37 schools in the district.
Among other innovations, she piloted a "Breakfast in a Bag Program" that increased the district's breakfast program by 3.1 million more breakfasts a year.
In the back of the house, Rivas worked hardest on training and educating her management staff. She revamped the nine-month manager training program and required cafè managers and assistants to take a 16-hour sanitation class.
With automation also a high priority, Rivas initiated a separate technology department solely for foodservice at BISD. The payoff was a boost in productivity from 14 to 20 meals per labor hour. The system provides point-ofsale and automated ordering systems as well as nutritional analysis. Inventories are reconciled monthly and all cafè managers are computer proficient, connected by e-mail and will soon keep automated perpetual inventory.
Finally, as an active member and leader in the School Nutrition Association, Rivas has been the Committee chair for the Public Policy and Legislative committee since fall of 2003. She served as SNA's Southwest regional director from 1998-2000 where she instituted nutrition training through the Healthy E.D.G.E. Program, which provides guidance on implementing U.S. dietary guidelines.
Rivas thrives on challenges and change. In her new Dallas district she plans first to focus on meeting the new requirements related to food safety policy that were part of the school lunch reauthorization bill. With strategic planning she wants to put stronger emphasis on nutrition and improve consistency in all 210 DISD schools.
"Together we are going to work on becoming a program of excellence," she says. "When a staff works simultaneously to accomplish its goals, the outcome is truly rewardingfor everyone." It's appropriate that Rivas would be dedicated to team success since her school foodservice philosophy is heavy laden with the networking tips she's acquired over the years.
"Why reinvent the wheel?" she asks. "This is a field where we can share information, visit one another and benefit from our collective efforts. When we all share, we all win."
What's on Rivas' Plate?
Inspiring the Next Generation of Foodservice Directors
Careers in school foodservice offer a unique opportunity to be a consistent part of the solution to the problem of childhood obesity. Like many in her segment, Rivas believes it's important for school foodservice directors to help develop new talent to help move school nutrition forward. Here are some of the strategies she recommends.
• OPERATORS, MAKE YOUR MARK. "The perception of our current customers will influence the perception of our future customers. It's important that we invite parents to come and see the changes in child nutrition programs. Design your programs with long term as well as short term goals in mind."
• HEALTHFUL OPTIONS. "Provide food items and menus that will serve as good examples for making good choices in addition to promoting good health. As we look at new products and modify recipes to lower sugar and fat, it's important to test them with students. Involve your staff in the why's and how's of doing so."
• WANTED: YOUNG CREATIVE MINDS. "Young dietitians and college grad's are needed in school foodservice. Their ideas are not only refreshing, but students relate to young professionals so much so that the students talk openly about what they think of our program and how we can improve."
• SHOW THE WAY. "In any career, finding a mentor to offer advice may be critical to survival. Become a mentor by getting involved in undergraduate programs. Make the next generation aware of the fact that school foodservice needs them by opening your doors as a training ground for dietetic interns."
• GET NETWORKING. "There are many opportunities to inspire others when you get involved with organizations like the School Nutrition Association (SNA). The people you network with at conferences and meetings willingly share information and offer advice that can help professional growth."