The opening of the 2008-2009 school year marks Opaa!'s 30th year serving the nutritional needs of children in Missouri public schools. I know that my father would be proud of the impact Opaa! has had on the lives of the children and faculty that we serve and very proud of the workforce that has been gathered to deliver the quality food service program that has made Opaa! successful.

A lot has changed in these 30 years-but one thing hasn't, Opaa!'s commitment to delivering a nutritious meal with a smile. As I reflect back on these 30 years I realize that Opaa! wouldn't be where it is today if it weren't for the hard work and dedication that you bring to the job everyday. We are feeding America's future.

During the course of the 2007-08 school year, we reaffirmed our commitment to our definition of success: making a difference in the lives of our customers nutritionally, emotionally and financially. We are proud of the strength of our client school district relationships and added six new school districts to the growing Opaa! family during the year.

One achievement of note came this past spring when we were notified that our nutrition partnership with the Nixa School District was recognized with the "District of Excellence" distinction from the School Nutrition Association. This partnership was one of only six in the nation to receive the honor this year and the only one recognized in Missouri. We believe that this award reinforces our belief in the power of Opaa!'s Partnership Pyramid as shown to the left.

Other 2007-08 highlights:

  • Achieved 100% certification of all Directors of Nutrition Services in the nationally recognized "Serve-Safe Program."
  • Earned commitments from additional client school districts to increase the numbers of breakfasts served during MAP testing week.
  • Implemented a number of successful nutritional promotions such as "Fear Factor," designed to get children to try vegetables that they may not have eaten before.
  • Introduced "Eat a Rainbow," a collaboration with College of the Ozarks and the Nixa School District on a project that included staff professional development activities and a visiting chef program-with student involvement-that culminated in a student health fair.
  • Increased levels of participation in our philanthropy relationship with the Junior Achievement program.

Again, we would like to recognize the commitment and dedication of the outstanding food service professionals that carry out the Opaa! mission daily. "Make Their Day" comes alive only through their efforts and to those individuals, we say "thanks."

Here's to our next 30 years!

Yummy and school lunch are two words that are not often heard in the same sentence-unless you're a student in the Nixa R-2 School District.

The district was one of only six schools in the nation to earn the District of Excellence Distinction in School Nutrition designation by the School Nutrition Association.

"This award is about more than just having a tasty lunch," said Cindy Kubowicz, director of food services for the district. "It is about teaching our kids good nutritional habits and allowing them the tools to become healthy adults."

Kubowicz and staff began the journey of nutritional education early in the year with events such as the food Fear Factor challenge.

"The idea behind the Fear Factor was to make eating nutritional foods fun for the kids," she said. "We wanted to expose them to more veggies than just canned green beans and corn."

Students loved the event Kubowicz said, inspiring other events throughout the district such as "Eat a Rainbow," which featured a guest chef who prepared a colorful array of culinary delights for students.

"This was something I read about and just loved the idea of," said Peggy Taylor, Nixa school board president. "I love to see more fresh produce from Missouri in our students' hands and using a chef to make it more tasty was a great idea."

Kubowicz said getting the information through to the students is the main goal.

"I have set up Nutritional Advisory Committee groups where I have lunch with the students once a month," she said. "I want to know what they think, what they like, what they hate, what their friends like-they are the people this will affect."

Kubowicz hopes to begin NAC groups in each of the district schools in the coming year.

In addition to the variety of educational nutritional activities, the district also provides the students with three meal options each day.

"Having three options for the students, especially on the elementary level, is something many schools in the area don't offer," Kubowicz said. "We try to have a fresh vegetable and a fresh fruit at least four days a week. We had to get away from the government commodity items and bump up our nutritional level with local produce."

Studies show students who eat healthy and are well fed perform better at school.

"I don't think people realize how much nutrition affects children's ability to learn," Taylor said. "Healthy kids are healthy minds and that's what we strive for."

Kubowicz and Taylor agreed school lunch "gets a bad wrap," but were extremely proud of Nixa's program and their achievement.

The District of Excellence Distinction recognizes school districts that complete a thorough self-assessment in all four "key" areas in the Keys to Excellence program. The district's excellence is then verified by a comprehensive application documenting knowledge and application of national best practices in nutrition and nutrition education, communications and marketing, administration, and operations.

"We're honored to receive this School Nutrition Association designation because it recognizes all the hard work our school food and nutrition operation does to make school meals delicious, attractive, nutritious and economical," said Superintendent Dr. Stephen Kleinsmith in a press release.

The district is now eligible to apply for the $25,000 District of the Year award, which Kubowicz said would really help the program.

"We would love to win," she said. "I would love to start herb gardens at each school and continue on with our guest chef program."

To learn more about the District of Excellence program log on to www.schoolnutrition.org/KEYS.


Opaa! Food Management announced that Smithville R-II School District food service employee, Vicky Moore, has been selected as the recipient of its Employee of the Year Award for the 2007-08 school year. Vicky was presented the award at a surprise reception and all-student assembly on May 9, 2008, by Opaa! President Kevin Short, Opaa! Executive Vice President Robert Sanders, Vice President for Operations Sheila Middleton, and Regional Director of Operations Louis Thorpe.

Vicky was selected for this award from among Opaa!'s 1,400 employees throughout the State of Missouri. Vicky has worked in the food service department in Smithville for a total of 20 years and has been with Opaa! Food Management the past 6 of those years. Vicky serves as the kitchen manager at Smithville Elementary School. In introducing Vicky as this year's winner, Vice President for Operations, Sheila Middleton, described Vicky as having constistently gone above and beyond expectations to provide service to the students and staff at her school.

Wayne Krueger, Assistant Superintendent of School in Smithville, indicated that Vicky is a most deserving employee due to her dedication and commitment to students and staff. "She is someone who loves every single child who comes into the cafeteria and always calls them by name. The teachers and administrators appreciate all the extra touches that Vicky provides for them as well."

Executive Vice President Robert Sanders began the meeting by describing the Employee of the Year selection process and how it included written nominations from fellow employees with details of outstanding job performance, demonstrated leadership and initiative, and a genuine commitment to customer service. Sanders noted the significance of the award since it comes from nominations by her peer group.

In addition to the awards presented by Opaa! Food Management representatives, Principal Bethany Englebrecht presented Vicky a sash and tiera by made by members of the Elementary School staff along with numerous cards and gifts to mark the occasion.

The surprise was complete as Vicky thought that the Opaa! officials were in the district to recognize another employee. When asked for her reaction, Vicky talked about how she couldn't believe it. "I was totally shocked. I'm often asked about my children and I always respond that I have one biological child, but over 400 children." As to her innovative ideas, she said that "I come up with a lot of crazy ideas, Julie Worden, Director of Nutrition Services, gives me the materials to work with, and my food service team then carry out the ideas".

Vicky and her husband Don live in Smithville and Vicky describes herself as a life-long resident and graduate of the Smithville School District. Don and Vicky have a son, D.J. who lives in Columbia, Missouri. When not working in the kitchen, Vicky joins Don in their hobby of raising quarterhorses.

Opaa! Food Management, Inc., is based in Chesterfield, Missouri, and currently provides nutrition services to 65 Missouri school districts. Opaa! has been providing services to the Smithville R-II School District since 2002.

MoASBO Journal
Missouri Association of School Business Officials
November/December 2007 | Volume 55| Number 2
Pages 20-21


Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain
By Dr. James Haley, Superintendent of Schools
Oak Grove R-VI School District

Many of us in the education profession have consumed too many school lunches over the years to count. I have enjoyed school lunches from kindergarten up to my present age of 47 years young. Some would call me an expert in the area of school lunches, and my curvy figure provides evidence that I am able to address many issues concerning "the school lunch".

I have shared many times stories of the good ole' days when the cooks would prepare hot rolls each day from scratch, and how that aroma would fill the halls near the cafeteria. Cooks in the old days took pride in their work and the more I ate, the happier they were. Life was good!

Having worked in several Missouri schools during the last 20 years, it was my opinion that those special days are a thing of the past. Students, teachers, and parents would complain that the lunches just aren't any good. The cooks would complain that they can't cook like they used to because of state and federal guidelines for nutrition. My response to the criticism of school lunches was "what do you expect for $1.65"? Well, I had to drop that defensive line when I visited the $1 menu at McDonalds and Taco Tuesday at Taco Bell!

To be honest, while our lunches at Oak Grove weren't bad, they weren't anything to brag about either. I did, however, always defend the program and our lunch ladies. One of our problems was that a person knew what day of the week it was by looking at the lunch menu. Remember, I am a school lunch expert, thus I know that many schools fall into the same category: repetitive menus, bland food, and small portions. There was a reason why so many students brought their lunch. My own kids wanted to bring their lunch!

One day I came across some information on contracting for food service. Though I didn't know anything about this method, I didn't have a warm feeling about it either. I figured this would not be an option for Oak Grove because I assumed that the cooks would have to be employed by the management company. I mentioned these thoughts to my secretary. She said, "Oh my goodness, please don't think about that". She went on to say, "The darkest days in the history of Oak Grove were when we considered outsourcing food service; the cooks went crazy!"

Not being one to dodge conflict if it will improve the school, I began my research. I soon learned that there were many options for keeping the cooks on the school payroll. I assumed that would be my biggest problem, so I decided to make some phone calls and visit schools that contract for food service. But first, I wanted to meet with the cooks to let them know that we were only investigating this matter. Guess what; they went crazy. They told me that they had heard how terrible contracting was, and they didn't want anything to do with it. They felt they did a good job and simply weren't appreciated. While I admitted that I didn't know anything about this manner of delivering meals to the students, I told them I would appreciate it they would remain open minded and at least visit some schools that contracted for food service. It became clear that being open minded wasn't going to be an option for them, but the Board of Education and I felt we needed to look further into our options.

Arrangements were made for representatives from the high school student body, administrators, members of the Board of Education, and a cook to visit schools that used food service management companies. I wanted all stakeholders to view first hand what was being considered. In short, every person, except the cook, came back with positive comments about menus, portion sizes, reasonable costs, and a positive atmosphere. The decision was made to obtain bids from reputable companies and try to further separate fact from fiction.

The food service management companies were wonderful to work with as we identified what each company could do to improve the way we provide meals to our students and staff. It was also nice to learn that not only could the companies provide a better product, but there would be a significant savings in the budget as well. A hurdle we knew we would have to cross was what would happen to our food service employees. It was understood that our current employees would continue to remain on our payroll, but future employees would be employed by the management company.

While I realize that many schools in Missouri operate successful food service programs, our investigation and review of submitted bids made it clear that a change would be good for our school. There was not one reason why the Board of Education should not approve a bid, other than some people simply did not want change.

The closing chapter to this story is that a bid was approved to bring a management company in to run our food service program. Although there was a very tight timeline, it was decided that we would implement this new program in the middle of the school year. As a kick-off for the program, our company provided a real "wow" factor with new decorations and menu choices for our students and staff as they arrived on the first day of service. They would truly see that a number of positive changes were in store for them.

The results exceeded my expectations. Our student participation rates rose immediately and have remained high. Everyone wanted to try the changes in menus and recipes. I had parents comment that they were excited because their child was now eating school lunches. Our staff rated it as the number one positive change for the school year, and many of them now eat regularly. And, as a result of working with our management company, the business side of food service is now managed in a much more professional manner.

Finally, and most importantly, there is now a certain pride exhibited by our cooks in the role that they play in our school. That translates into a very positive atmosphere in each kitchen and radiates out to the students and staff. While contracting for food service isn't necessary for every school district, I can tell you it has been a total success in Oak Grove. If you doubt my opinion, just stop by some morning for a visit. Oh yes, and that aroma you'll smell as you approach the school is hot rolls being baked in the kitchen from scratch. The good ole' days are back!

At its annual Summer Retreat July 15 - 17, 2008, Sheila Middleton, Vice President of Operations for Opaa! Food Management, announced Kathy Diederich, Opaa!'s Regional Director of Operations, for central Missouri, as the recipient of the 2007-08 Regional Director of the Year award. Company officials selected Kathy as Regional Director of the Year from among Opaa!'s Regional Directors of Operation across the State of Missouri. The criteria for selection included dedication, service and support to the region, reached the highest level of the Pursuit of Excellence program, outstanding representative for Opaa! and a committed to excellence. Middleton described Kathy as, "an employee who is very dedicated to the company and has never seen a goal she didn't indent to conquer".

Kathy has been an Opaa! employee for the past four years and as the interim Regional Director of Operations for the last half of the school year. Previously, Kathy started as a member of the on-line staff, then accepted the Director of Nutrition Services position and helped Opaa! make the transition from a district food service operation to Opaa! Food Management. Kathy is the only four time winner of the President's Circle Award which was inaugurated in 2004. She moved into the back-up role of the Regional Director of Operations position, holding training sessions within her region to help other Directors succeed, all along, continually ensuring the high level of operations at the Southern Boone County School District was always being maintained.

Kathy and her husband Robert, of 26 years, live in Hartsburg and have three children. Sarah 22, leaves soon for an 11 month, 11 country mission trip, Zach, 20, works full time in construction, and Jessie 16, is active in school, FFA, and helping on the family farm. They live on the family farm where they work together growing various crops and livestock. She enjoys big family meals together, playing on the river in their boat, and relaxing which she says they don't do enough of.

Kathy has worked in the food service industry for 14 years as a lunch lady, Kitchen Manager, Director of Nutrition Services, and most recently as a Interim Regional Director of Operations. Kathy stated she gained support from the 14 awesome lunch staff from the Southern Boone County School District and 5 Directors in her region, not to mention her family and all the great folks that surround her in this position. Kathy went on to say, "My first reaction was shock as I didn't even realize that I was eligible to win this award since I had been serving as the interim Regional Director of Operations for the last five months and that I'm very honored by the award and give much of the credit to the great ladies of my region for the accomplishment of this award." She continued by saying, "What I would say to others, is that you have to have a positive attitude, strong teamwork, work ethics, love your job, focused individuals and need to have fun. With this in place you will bring success to yourselves, your school district and to Opaa! our company."

Opaa! Food Management, Inc., is based in Chesterfield, Missouri, and is entering its 30th year of operation. Opaa! currently operates the nutrition programs for 64 Missouri school districts.