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Friday, July 09, 2010

Lunch Issues

As we all know, the District centralized food service to the kitchen in SODO. This means that the kitchens in the schools will only be used to heat the food up and assemble some parts - not to actually cook it. The meals the students eat will all have been cooked at the central kitchen a day or two before. It was presented to the Board as a budget cutting move and they accepted it on that basis. No report has yet been made on the savings (if any) realized by the change.

The anticipated savings would be lost if there were a significant reduction in the number of students choosing to buy and eat the school lunches. There's some complex relationships between all of these numbers, but that's how it works out. Economies of scale are lost when sales drop.

Experience has shown that sales go down when the meals are cooked centrally and delivered to the schools and sales go up when the meals are cooked at the school. The students also say that the meals cooked on premises are tastier and more wholesome.

The issue was one of great contention with the Food Service workers because they would lose a lot of hours with the change. Also, since their jobs and their pay are linked to the number of meals served, they had even more on the line.

We should have a full and unbiased report on the outcomes realized by the change. I'm not holding my breath. The Board is highly unlikely to ask for it and the staff is highly unlikely to produce it without a Board request.

Now comes another lunch issue: time.

It has recently been reported that the bell schedule at STEM will allow for only one thirty minute lunch period for the whole school. The newly renovated lunchroom at Cleveland, "The Commons", has about 100 seats. The standing capacity (by Fire Code) is about 200. If the District thinks that 700 students at STEM can all get a meal and a place to eat in thirty minutes, I'd like to know how they reckon that.

According to Board Policy H61.01:
Meal times should be scheduled so that dining areas have the capacity to seat all students who wish to eat there comfortably. Students should have enough time to relax, eat, and socialize without the distraction of competing activities.

the policy also says:
Meal periods shall be long enough for students to eat and socialize – a minimum of 10 minutes are provided to eat breakfast and 20 minutes to eat lunch with additional time as appropriate for standing in line;

Let me advise folks who aren't familiar with the area, that there are NO close by places for STEM students to get meals. There is no shopping area near Cleveland. There are no fast food restaurants. There's not even a convenience store or gas station food mart. Nothing. The closest place to get food is McPherson's produce stand, about a half mile to the north and too far for students to go on a short lunch break. Students have told me that there is no time to get to Georgetown and back, let alone time to buy and consume any food available from there.

Cleveland students either bring a lunch, buy a school lunch, or skip lunch. Those are the only choices. There's no way that thirty minutes is nearly enough time and there is no way that "The Commons" has enough space, for all of these students to eat.

Cleveland, with an enrollment of 682, had two lunch periods. STEM, in the same building, with an anticipated enrollment of 900, will have only one.

The State Auditor found that the School Board was failing in their duty to enforce policy and failing in their duty to oversee the superintendent. This will be another example of their failure, hers, the education director's, and STEM.

27 comments:

Jet City mom said...

Very topical- particulary with schools around the country taking nutrition and taste as priorities instead of clock hours.

Too bad that we dont' have more schools utilizing the urban agriculture model that is so popular elsewhere.
like in Baltimore or in Denver Detroit, or Birmingham

and they thought it was just in Berkeley

When my D attended high school, I don't think she ever went into the cafeteria- she went to Dur-Dur or Ezell's.

When I was in high school, the cafeteria was too crowded although the food was fine, we went elsewhere, but I was always late to class after lunch. ( I eventually transferred to a school more like Nova- although we didn't have kitchen facilities)

Since the union contract seems to preclude anyone selling edibles on grounds besides the union, I expect many kids won't be eating that much.

Think it will affect their learning?

David Westberg said...

It is not the union contract that precludes sales of other edibles, it is federal law.

With a projected 495 Free & Reduced price (SSD Data Profile) eligible students at Cleveland this Fall, this means that even if every single seat in the lunch room were filled by a FRL student, there would not be space for almost 400 FRL children to eat at school. That scenario would also still potentially leave 300+ full price paying students to look elsewhere for nutrition during the mid-day.

Lehi High in Lehi, Utah moved to a block-class, single lunch schedule sometime before 2006. They were forced to go to a two lunch schedule by 2008 due to overcrowding. An article on the net about the experience there begins;

“Trey Gover, a junior at Lehi High School, sits in a dark stair alcove to school's auditorium with three other friends. It is their spot of choice where they can sit and relax while other students compete for food for lunch and a place to eat. Gover sits on the stairs leaning against the brick wall, shuts his eyes and tries to get some rest. He hasn't eaten yet. He won't get his first meal of the day until 6 p.m.

"I draw instead," Gover said about the 51-minute break. "There are too many people in line."

Parking is at a premium for Lehi High School students, and the halls are like a bumper car bash during class break.

But the problem of an overcrowded school may be most noticeable during lunch time. Students overflow the cafeteria into the commons area, down the halls, or, like Gover and his friends, into alcoves and other recesses of the school for a place to sit and eat a meal.

Dana Black, cafeteria manager, said she probably serves 600 students during the lunch hour, leaving more than 1,000 students to either bring lunches, eat out, buy at the vending machines (before they are turned off for lunch), or skip the meal frenzy entirely.

A school district spokesperson said:
"'Generally across the board, many of the students don't eat in the building, many of our students choose to eat off campus,' Mortenson said, adding the students like to sit wherever they sit and the teen culture of students eating off the floor can be seen at all the high schools."

Remember, in Seattle (unlike, we presume Utah), much of the school facilities are only cleaned once every third day (once or twice a week maximum) due to years of budget cuts in the number of staff who clean our facilities. That makes the floor especially unappetizing in Seattle.

A “pilot” of this plan at Cleveland this last year shows a drop in lunch participation of over 11% in a one lunch scenario. While the Board has voted to increase the prices of meals, making space to eat unavailable in schools like Cleveland will also hurt the District’s overall bottom line significantly.

This seems another example of kids coming last behind the desires of adults.

Sahila said...

Starve the developing brain of good nutritious food, test the kids and blame the consequent poor results on teachers...

dan dempsey said...
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CCM said...

I know that the 6th graders at WMS were told how good the lunches were last year (cooked in-house) - and how comparably bad they were this year. Feedback from our kids is the only "edible" thing is the (reheated) pizza - which they serve every day.
Our kids take their lunch 99% of the time - but there are too many kids who don't have that option. Who wants their kid to subsist on pizza everyday?

TechyMom said...

Is there a space near Cleveland that would make sense for the street food vendors the city is planning to allow? Seems like a taco truck would do pretty well there, especially since the STEM students will be mostly not low-income.

It doesn't help the elementary schools, but perhaps this new city rule can help the middle and high schools without nearby restaurants?

Sahila said...

What is this thinking that we dont insist on good food being provided in the schools, but we make it easy (or attempt to make it easy) for children to have to buy their food from outside vendors/restaurants...

Is this free market exploitation of our children?

And what about the low income kids who cant afford the restaurant/taco truck food???

Why are we thinking/suggesting solutions such as this when we should be insisting that our kids are well fed within the schools?

There ought to be no need to leave school property for the few short minutes they have to eat, relax, chill out before more classes...

TechyMom said...

I don't disagree that we should be providing healthy food. But, that's a long-term thing, and not something likely to happen in the current political/economic environment.

I also think it's good to have a variety of off-campus options. Both because some kids prefer to take a walk, and because off-campus options can take pressure off the cafeteria, so that the kids who can't afford to eat elsewhere can get through the line and find a seat.

Plus, I think street food is a great opportunity for small businesses to come into being and employ people. And taco trucks and other street food create an interesting culture of inexpensive interesting food, which is good for the life of the neighborhood and city.

It's something than can be done right now to mitigate an acute problem, and it has side benefits.

dan dempsey said...

TechyMom,

In 2006-2007 West Seattle HS had 1367 students and one lunch. We had kids going everywhere and a long lunch time. It worked very well.

Cleveland at 30 minute lunch will be an absolute nightmare.

The solution maybe caterers driving up with food. Or perhaps every Cleveland student can be given a Superman lunchbox with thermos and told to plan ahead .... including figuring out where to sit to eat that packed lunch.

G said...

Garfield has a 30 minute lunch with 1600 plus kids. Kids line the halls eating lunch, kids eat in the relatively small cafeteria, some go out quickly, many eat outside when they can (not often). Tardiness is completely not tolerated, so everyone is back in 30 minutes. It seems to work, I guess. Why would Cleveland at half the size have a more difficult time with the schedule?

Jan said...

G -- I have a Garfield student. And you are right. Some go to Ezells, some to the AM/PM on Cherry, many to the shopping plaza on Jackson. But I think there is NOTHING like that in the Cleveland neighborhood. My impression is that there is NOwhere for those kids to go. If that is correct, they have to bring lunch, buy school lunch, or skip it, and Garfield would not be a fair comparison.

Anonymous said...
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SSDemp said...

Mobile vending will remain illegal within 1000 feet (also the "drug free zone" for "Trans fat pushers") of schools and all such vending requires restrooms. Should school restrooms then be open to the general public or should neighbors make theirs available?

Frank said...

The lunchroom capacity at Garfield is much larger and remember, "Fire Code" capacity is standing up, with no tables or chairs.

TechyMom said...

1000 feet is a couple blocks, right? That seems like a distance a teen could walk pretty quickly.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I forgot. One big complaint at Roosevelt is if you DO want to eat the cafeteria food, it takes forever to get and then you have 5 minutes to eat it. To get that many kids, even just half of them, through the food line and seated to eat seems a stretch.

David Westberg said...

Melissa: Not mentioned is that Roosevelt has two lunches as well.

As does Ballard.

David Westberg said...

Melissa: Not yet mentioned is that Roosevelt has two lunches.

As does Ballard.

grousefinder said...

Here is an interesting tidbit...our wonderful cafeteria lunch person had her hours cut so that between morning breakfast (generally F&RL) and the actual lunch period there is a 1.5 hour "break." Her supervisor says that she should, "use that time to catch up on data entry." This is supposed to be done for free!

I talked to this hardworking person about this schedule and she said her colleagues comply out of fear of being split between two schools. This is always the threat my friend says.

So....in a nutshell...the lunch and food service budget is being balanced on the backs of hardworking employees who fear being given poor schedules.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, right, Dave and if they have two lunches and the kids still complain they can't get a school meal in 30 minutes, what will happen at Cleveland with no outside food for kids to get to?

David Westberg said...

Melissa: got you.

Grousefinder: there are certain small programs that only support a "split" shift as you mention but no lunch person is ever expected to work during that time. IF any work is done, the employee is paid for every minute. Our union has been very aggresive on such "off the clock" suggestions and will stop same in their tracks.

Also, no one is "given" such a schedule, they apply for them as they still provide benefits until longer hour positions are avilable.

WenD said...

TechyMom:

I see the merit in your suggestion (my oldest would prefer sushi), but my family is low-income. Daily trips to taco trucks aren't in our budget.

I think the bigger issue is that once again, SPS is playing games with funds, staff, and students. Why are we discussing workarounds for systemic problems? Why is this district, and others like it, allowed to ignore basic logistics, civility, much less health and development?

Adults can probably choose to eat at their cube, or rush through a quick break and grab lunch at the time of their choosing. They can also choose to relax, sit down, and enjoy their lunch by themselves or with co-workers for a leisurely 30 - 60 minutes. (I'm not being snarky on the 30-60. I feel leisurely when I take my 30 and leave my desk.) HS students aren't allowed the same flexibility.

With boards approving decisions like this, it's no wonder that Broad et al has stepped into the management gap in a huge way.

dan dempsey said...

Hey wait...
Princess Shareff is the Cleveland principal and she got an award. Has anyone asked her?

Maybe she has a great as yet unknown plan that can spin apparent straw into virtual gold.

Seriously ask her. She must have an answer.

Math does not work, so go pay for Sylvan or Kumon or tutoring or do it yourself home instruction.

Lunch does not work, so go pay for Deli or Fast food or pack your own from home.

I think I see the lunch plan.

==========
Cleveland can't plan lunch .... good luck with NTN's STEM

NTN is under appeal.

Recall five.

David Westberg said...

Dan

The plan comes from Princess.

Kids are simply easier to manage when they make themselves scarce, as another Cleveland principal stated in the past.

dan dempsey said...

David,

Has Princess Shareef explained how lunch will work in actual practice?

Looks like she did about the same quality research on lunch as she did on New Technology Network schools.

Both appear to be Project Based Learning experiences headed for failure.

For Lunch the PBL will certainly be a Problem Based Experience.

NTN contract and NSAP are both under legal appeal.

Think of the "Recall five" as an over arching umbrella of legal action that includes Cleveland Lunch.

-- Dan

Dave said...

Dan

As per usual, now that the decision has been arrived at, they are now thinking of details such as the kids.

As workers, "the Sup" has said "there is no valid reason" for us to interact with principals, everything has to go through multiple levels at HQ.

Good communication huh?

seattle said...

A) My son stopped eating school lunch after the district started making it centrally and delivering it. He didn't care for it much before it was made centrally but ate it occasionally, but never now.

B) Nathan Hale also has one lunch period for 1300 students. Not sure what the lunchroom capacity is but it's not even close to 1300 (my guess is maybe 400 give or take). My sons friend who gets free lunch, stopped eating it too, not because it's made centrally, but because the lines are so long. Could you imagine 1300 kids.