Last week, I introduced the Local Optional Revenue topic. I will return to that in a future article, but there were two topics that I thought should be addressed this week. The topics are not really related, but I wanted to share the information about the recent academic results and our food service program.
At the end of September, the Minnesota Department of Education released its annual information about academic progress in schools across the state. John Clark Elementary School (Rockville) and Richmond Elementary School were both recognized by Commissioner Brenda Cassellius as Reward Schools!
Reward School status is the highest honor or recognition that the Department offers. The status is based on the MMR (Multiple Measurements Ratings) which includes information about attendance, student proficiency, and student progress or growth. The ratings are given to schools that participate in the federal Title programs—which often are elementary level schools.
John Clark Elementary School has earned Reward School status for three consecutive years—one of a small number of schools to do so! Richmond earned Reward status a few years ago and was Celebration eligible last year. The student progress last year put Richmond back to Reward status.
Although Cold Spring Elementary did not earn a particular designation, the building did make academic progress over the last school year. The larger student population, the variety of special education and English-learning students present challenges to CSE that are not present to the same degree at the other two elementary schools.
The secondary building, the Middle School and Senior High, does not receive labels or ratings because they are not school sites receiving federal Title funding. We had somewhat mixed results at the secondary level. Reading performance was not as high as we would like it to be but Math performance continues to be a positive element.
Our administrative team and each of our buildings continue to work on improvement and progress. We are working hard on issues of consistency in delivery of instructional program, focusing on issues in Reading, and developing our programs for English learning students. Our RtI teams continue to work with our district data to identify issues of concern and encourage steps to address those issues.
SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has dramatically changed the meals served in school lunchrooms. Although ROCORI still offers choices of meals, the nature of the food products is quite different than five years ago.
Improving child nutrition is the focal point of the federal legislation. The emphasis of the program is to reduce calories, lower sodium intake, and encourage healthier eating habits. There is considerable freedom to encourage more fruits and vegetables for students while reducing fats, sugars and caffeine.
The nutrition program guidelines are wide-sweeping. Effective July 1, 2014, the guidelines also impose restrictions on the snacks school districts can sell to students during the school day. The limitations affect the food and beverages sold in school stores, vending machines, fundraisers, a la carte lines and other locations during the school day. All of the items sold during the school day must meet the USDA nutrition standards as “smart snacks.”
For most schools, following the federal guidelines is not optional. Food service programs are, for better or worse, dependent on the U.S. Department of Agriculture financial support in order to operate. Part of the support is federal reimbursement of free and reduced meals. Each meal meeting these guidelines receives federal funding. The state of Minnesota, this year, has eliminated reduced meals to make them all “free”.
Beyond financial support for meals, schools also become dependent on federal commodities—cheese, flour, peanut butter, butter, and other items. The greater the student free/reduced population, the more eligibility for commodities. Schools with more students on free and reduced price meals receive more federal food service funding. A school with a smaller population receives less aid.
Although most of us understand the need for healthier choices, there seems to be a great deal of dissatisfaction with the restrictions and limitations currently in place. Dissatisfaction, however, does not overcome the financial support and federal involvement directing the food service program.
Some of our students have encouraged a boycott of the lunch program to show their dissatisfaction. While this action can certainly demonstrate the concerns, our food service staff and our administrators cannot change what we are required to do. Minnesota’s Food Service Directors, as an organization, have gone on record supporting changes to the requirements! The changes cannot be made locally, however, they have to take place in our nation’s capital.
The dissatisfaction, from parents and students, should really be directed at those who can influence, change, or adjust the requirements of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act—our legislators and government officials in Washington, D.C. Changing the legislation and USDA interpretations are the only real options for creating different meal requirements.
In the interim, our food service staff has been working very hard to meet the guidelines and offer quality meals. We recently had a Community Finance Committee meeting and offered school lunches to the adults who were present. The Committee members were pleasantly surprised about the meals they received with options among lasagna rolls, pancakes/sausage, or soup and sandwich. The group commented about the quality of the meal and the amount of food available for the meal—understanding that fruits and vegetables are offered in greater quantities.