North Carolina school nutrition chief cites problems with new federal rules

Today, during a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, Dr. Lynn Harvey, the incoming Vice President of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), testified about the costs of complying with new regulations on school meals and snacks. As the Chief of School Nutrition Services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Harvey discussed how North Carolina schools have struggled with student acceptance of new menus and financial challenges under the new standards.

“Compliance has come at a significant cost for schools in North Carolina and, more important, for students,” she said. “Student participation in school meals has declined by 5% under the new rules.”

Harvey highlighted challenges with the new mandate that all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain-rich.  “For two years, local School Nutrition Directors have offered these items under ideal conditions and have encouraged students to try them. Yet, students continue to reject them because their taste, texture and appearance are quite different from that to which they are accustomed…Students’ dissatisfaction with whole grain-rich biscuits has led to a decline in breakfast participation in 60% of our school districts.”

Harvey also cited the higher cost of meeting the new rules’ mandates and a statewide loss of more than $20 million in a la carte revenue as a result of the Smart Snacks in School mandates. These factors have contributed to “significant financial challenges” in North Carolina’s school meal programs. “Over half of School Nutrition Programs in North Carolina are operating at a revenue loss. The average loss is nearly $2.5 million,” Harvey testified.  She called for increased funding and flexibility under the rules to address these losses.  Harvey submitted to the record similar stories highlighting challenges in school districts in each of the Subcommittee members’ home states:

I believe that the new regulations were rushed to implementation without taking into consideration the impact they would have on plate waste, food costs or customer acceptability. My grandkids go to one of the schools in my district and they used to LOVE eating lunch at school. NOW I get complaints from them every day! (Arizona)

As a dietitian, I do believe it is important for children to get the vitamins and minerals they need to support a healthy lifestyle, but when a lot of that ends up in the trash, it becomes a financial issue as well. There has to be a more cost effective way to get children the nutrition they need- but requiring them to take something that is going to go straight in the garbage is wasteful. (Florida)

I have been offering and encouraging students to choose more 100% whole grains, but there are certain items that just don’t go over well in a whole grain-rich variety. Our Thanksgiving lunch was embarrassing – the whole grain-rich corn bread dressing was sad, sad, sad. We need flexibility to allow exceptions for a few menu items. (Oklahoma)

Ever since the implementation of the new regulations, Bloomfield Hills School’s food service department has seen a decrease each year in the number of students buying lunches. In addition we have seen a decrease in our a la carte sales after the Smart Snacks rule went into effect. If we were allowed to have more flexibility with the regulations we could find the items our students want to eat.” (Michigan)

American schools might be better at encouraging creativity than European schools

James B. Stewart believes that a fearless culture fuels U.S. tech giants

Often overlooked in the success of American start-ups is the even greater number of failures. “Fail fast, fail often” is a Silicon Valley mantra, and the freedom to innovate is inextricably linked to the freedom to fail. In Europe, failure carries a much greater stigma than it does in the United States. Bankruptcy codes are far more punitive, in contrast to the United States, where bankruptcy is simply a rite of passage for many successful entrepreneurs.

Petre Moser, assistant professor of economics at Standard and its Europe Center, said that Europeans have been trying to recreate Silicon Valley with little success, “The institutional and cultural differences are still too great.”

In his New York Times column, Stewart explains:

One of Europe’s greatest innovations was the forerunner of the modern university: Bologna, founded in 1088. But as centers of research and innovation, Europe’s universities long ago ceded leadership to those in the United States.

With its emphasis on early testing and sorting, the educational system in Europe tends to be very rigid. “If you don’t do well at age 18, you’re out,” Professor Moser said. “That cuts out a lot of people who could do better but never get the chance. The person who does best at a test of rote memorization at age 17 may not be innovative at 23.” She added that many of Europe’s most enterprising students go to the United States to study and end up staying.

She is currently doing research into creativity. “The American education system is much more forgiving,” Professor Moser said. “Students can catch up and go on to excel.”

Walt Carlson pushes for computers for each student

Walt Carlson recently urged the Fairfax County School Board to increase the number of computers in classrooms. He also warned against unequal implementation of technology as some schools move ahead on their own to provide a computer for each student. Here is the email he sent May 19:

Hi School Board Members:

During his presentation at your Regular Meeting the week before last, the ever eloquent, informative, irrepressible Mr. La Teef [the former student representative on the school board] informed us that during his visit to Great Falls ES – along with Michele Obama – he learned that they had gone to 1:1 computer devices for students in grades 3 to 6. That was great news to hear.

Thank You Mr. Le Teef for letting us know about that!!

I’ve also heard other FCPS schools have also gone 1:1 for some grades. As is that case with Great Falls ES, those schools were probably only able to do so because of a lot of help from their PTAs.

While I applaud the schools that have moved to 1:1 on their own – their doing so is making possible improved learning and allowing FCPS to gain experience with 1:1 environments – I have a major problem with their doings so:

it exacerbates the potential for UNEQUAL education being provided in FCPS schools.

Due to the limited funding of their PTAs, Most FCPS schools are not able to go 1:1. But a lot of wealthier school communities will be. This is just going increase the allegations that the FCPS is two separate but UNEQUAL school systems, one for the rich and one for the poor. Selective 1:1 school conversions are just going make it easier for these allegations to be supported.

At your last Retreat Dr. Garza informed you that — after discussion with some LT [Leadership Team] staff members — she felt that FCPS would be able to begin planning to convert to 1:1 computers. I was surprised by your lack of reaction to Dr. Garza’s announcement. I don’t recall any questions from you about how and when that would be accomplished. I would have thought someone would have asked “How can we help?”. Because it is doubtful that getting to 1:1 computers anytime SOON will be accomplished without:

LEADERSHIP FROM YOU.

Because that is what it is going to take for a lot of good things to happen in the FCPS: addressing the digital divide, reducing the minority achievement gap, and realizing the goals of the “Portrait of a Graduate”. To say nothing about implementing the new strategic plan uniformly across the FCPS!  It’s not going to happen! Not you get involved and make getting to 1:1 computers one of you highest priorities.

Do you really think it will be possible to effectively, equitably implement the Strategic Plan without all students having equal access to technology?

I have spoken to members of the Leadership Team who say FCPS is already falling behind in regard to the use of technology. They are right. Only you are going to be able to prevent that from happening by getting involved in coming up with a plan to obtain the resources to get to 1:1 computers. Like other school systems have done! Like Montgomery County has done. Like Mooresville NC has done! And it can be done without significant increases in funding from the BOS. Ideas on how other school systems have done that are described in Every Child, Every Day. Hopefully you already read that book by Dr. Mark Edwards of Mooresville NC school system.

One way in which FCPS is falling behind is potentially the rate at which the use of educational technology is being introduced and planned for in the FCPS. At last Monday’s work session on “High School ESOL Pilot Program” I watched and listened carefully but during the presentation I did not see or hear one mention of the use of technology. With a world that is drowning in technology, with more and more powerful language tools (translation, text to audio, audio response) available, with tools like SKYPE and YouTube making it possible for increased opportunities for students to listen to and practice speaking, you would have thought that the planned Pilot would have provided for SOME use of technology.  Perhaps it was concern about not having sufficient student access to technology. But I find it difficult to believe that with FCPS staff in the process of developing a strategic plan that I assume is based on taking advantage the of latest technology you would have thought the pilot would have least mention the planned use of technology!

And unless we do that FCPS is going to fall behind in many areas.

Only you can prevent that. Will you?

Carlson, a member of the Fairfax Education Coalition, has monitored the implementation of technology in Fairfax schools for over 20 years.

Remembering fresh baked bread in the school cafeteria

“Penny McConnell remembers making pounds upon pounds of pizza dough as a food services manager at West Springfield High School in the 1970s,” The Fairfax Times reports. “McConnell and the cafeteria staff would have to start making the dough two weeks in advance so they could bake enough pies to feed the hungry horde of high schoolers.”

I am pretty sure I remember being served fresh-baked bread at the Thomas Jefferson High School cafeteria in 1967-69. Who knows whether the future may see a return to some of these fresh baked menu items?

McConnell is retiring as the Fairfax County food and nutrition services director June 30. She will receive the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ highest award, the Marjorie Hulsizer Copher Award, in October.

See also How menus are changing in Fairfax school cafeterias

Democrats endorse school board candidates

The Annandale Blog reports that the Fairfax County Democratic Committee voted May 26 to endorse candidates for the school board.

I’m glad we don’t have to wait for the FCDC  to update its website to find out the results of this meeting. Ellie Ashford does a remarkable job in providing timely and comprehensive reports regarding the Annandale area, Mason District, and Fairfax County.

The Annandale Blog article mentions that an anonymous email was sent to FCDA members accusing Michele Menapace, who also sought the at-large endorsement, of being a voice for the Republicans “because she had been the campaign manager for GOP-endorsed at-large school board candidate Sheree Brown-Kaplan in 2011. One of her supporters called that claim untrue, noting that Menapace was merely helping a friend and is not a Republican.”

Blue Virginia also provided a timely report on May 27, although it simply listed the names of those endorsed:

Here is the list:

Ryan McElveen, Ilryong Moon, and Ted Velkoff (At-Large)

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District),

Janie Strauss (Dranesville District),

Patricia Hynes (Hunter Mill District)

Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee District)

Sandy Evans (Mason District)

Karen Corbett Sanders (Mt. Vernon District)

Dalia Palchik (Providence District)

Karen Keys-Gamarra (Sully District).

The Democrats did not endorse a candidate to oppose Elizabeth Schultz, the incumbent in the Springfield District.

Students, not school board salaries, should be the focus in the election

Apparently former school board member Stuart Gibson hopes voters will rely on his odd litmus test for deciding which candidates to support in the November election for the Fairfax County School Board. Although he admits that school board members “should be paid more than $20,000,” he scolds the members who voted for a raise and invents a convoluted method that he would deem appropriate for voting for a raise in salary. Without listing each of his steps, I’ll sum up by saying he would probably support such a vote when the Moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

“Only those candidates for the board who support these criteria will get my support and my vote in November,” Gibson said.

This is an incredibly narrow-minded view of the work of the school board. The election in November is not about the school board, it is about the students. Elementary school students are greatly benefiting from the school board’s decision to give them full-day Mondays. Gibson showed poor judgment in opposing this needed reform, both during his time on the school board and in his more recent advice to the current school board. Even though he was on the wrong side of this issue, I would hope that Gibson would admit that this vote was 1,000 times more important than the vote on salaries for school board members.

Children need salt for good health

The health benefits of salt also apply to children.  A recent Washington Post article  notes that it’s possible that sodium aids growth. “As scientists from New Jersey Medical School found out, if you put rats on low-salt diets, their bones and muscles fail to grow as fast as they normally would,” Martin Zaraska reports. “In one of his experiments, Leshem found that children in general reach for more salt than adults do–independent of calorie intake–which may be explained by the needs of their growing bodies.”

This is yet another reason why we should prevent drastic reductions in sodium in school meals.

A tragic example of a misguided zealotry to limit salt intake in a young patient lead to his death. Zaraska reports:

In 1940 the case of a little boy was described in the Journal of the American Medical Association. From the time he was a year old, the boy would go out of his way to eat massive amounts of salt. When he started speaking, one of his first words was “salt.” During a hospital stay (unrelated to his dietary habits), he was put on a low-sodium diet. To prevent him from sneaking around the hospital and stealing salt, he was strapped to his bed. He soon died. The reason? Due to severe and undiagnosed cortico-adrenal insufficiency, his kidneys were unable to retain sodium. Only eating huge amounts of salt had kept the boy alive.

Libraries help with internet access

Libraries help close the digital divide. Stephen Barker, a librarian in Prince Georges County, describes the vital role of libraries play in providing internet access. Librarians can try to assist with on-line job applications, but sometimes are frustrated by poorly designed on-line applications. “No one should have to spend hours on dysfunctional Web sites to find an entry-level job,” Barker says. “How many unemployed people have thrown up their hands in despair and joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed?”

His op-ed in today’s Washington Post says we must do more to eliminate the digital divide:

As a nation, we have to do more to make computers available to all people. While public libraries are one part of it, local librarians can’t do it all. The government should increase grants to schools, libraries and community centers, especially in low-income and economically depressed areas. Community colleges could make some computers available to the public and offer free computer classes to adults, as Prince George’s County Memorial Library System does.

Should school funding be tied to enrollment or to attendance?

Cinque Henderson argues that school funding should be tied to enrollment, not attendance: How some school funding formulas hurt learning and make schools more dangerous.

Attendance-based school funding hurts our most vulnerable students by pressuring educators to keep unruly – sometimes violent – children in school. Add to that the recent push to ban suspensions altogether, and the schools in our toughest areas feel no different from the rough streets that schools, at least in part, are designed to provide poor students an escape from.

These funding formulas put educators in a no-win situation: If they suspend or expel disruptive children, they lose out on money to provide educational services to other students who need it. If they keep misbehaving children in school, that threatens the safety of the staff and cripples the learning process. Teachers can’t teach when they are forced to babysit recalcitrant students in their classrooms. Allowing states to, in essence, punish the vast majority of students — those who are well-behaved and show up to school every day willing to learn — for the indifference or truancy of the minority who are chronically absent seems fundamentally unfair.

Henderson, who was a writer for HBO’s The Newsroom and is working on a book about America’s public schools. says, “As Congress debates this month the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the nation’s primary education law, lawmakers should consider how states distribute the federal funds they receive for schools.”

Should Fairfax consider a fee for after-school program for middle school students?

Supervisor John C. Cook (Braddock District) recently asked how much revenue could be generated if an annual $100 per student charge for the Middle School After School (MSAS) Program was instituted, exempting children eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Here is the response prepared by Mark Emery, the after-school program administrator:

The 2013-14 school year MSAS program had approximately 13,000 students that were considered regular attendees (i.e., U.S. Department of Education term denoting students who attend 30 or more days of after school programming in a school year). The extent to which a new fee will reduce participation is hard to predict, but it is assumed the regular attendees would be the most likely students to stay in the program in the event a fee is implemented. Assuming the current broader school population free and reduced price meals (FRM) rate of 28 percent applies to the regular attendees, 9,360 students would pay the $100 fee, for a total revenue generation of $936,000. However, as a result of outreach efforts, the percentage of after- school attendees who receive FRM is higher than the cited school-wide 28 percent. Therefore, revenues are very likely to be less than $936,000.

It should be noted that the MSAS program has been a key element in the County’s and school division’s initiatives to not just combat gangs but to improve student behavior, improve academic performance, and develop healthy and successful youth. The MSAS program provides safe, engaging, and enriching activities to students who do not have access to such opportunities otherwise. These students often come from a background where funding is not available for extracurricular activities. As such, significant effort was put into encouraging participation among as many middle school youth as possible. The decision not to implement a fee from the beginning of the program was a part of those efforts.

While the MSAS program receives the majority of its funding from the County’s General Fund, the program is officially a Fairfax County Public Schools program and as such any adoption of a program fee requires the approval of the Fairfax County School Board.

Source: FY2016 Responses