Interviewee: Lorita Myles
Interviewer: Meredith Johnston
Date: December 4, 2004
Description: Lorita Myles grew up during the 1940s and 1950s in Kansas City, Missouri, where she attended segregated schools. She graduated from Central State University of Ohio with a major in Elementary Education and taught in Des Moines, Iowa for one semester. Myles returned to Kansas City in 1959 and taught for 13 years. She went on to earn her master’s in Multicultural Education at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. She moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1972 where she taught for three years and worked two years in the central office administering a multicultural education program. Myles came to Columbus, Ohio, in 1977 and joined the Ohio State Department of Education as a ‘teacher in-service’ providing workshops and materials for teachers, primarily in the language arts and in multicultural education. For six years she served as special assistant to Ohio’s State Superintendent of Education. In October 1990, Myles became Director of Ohio’s Department of Nutrition Services and served in that position for 13 years. During her time as director she oversaw the development of professional training materials, the implementation of a computer program for commodities known as “CATS”, and a similar computer program called “CRRS”, which handled the claiming system. As a member of the American School Food Service Association she participated in their Legislative Action Conferences. She was also active in the Ohio School Food Service Association and the Ohio Association of School Business Officers.
Meredith Johnston: We are here with Lorita Myles and we are at the Ohio Department of Education. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you today.
Lorita Myles: It certainly is my pleasure.
LM: I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri; attended segregated schools, attended school in the ’50s. At the time my husband and I graduated the Brown decision came down, which we just had that anniversary not too long ago. I really enjoyed school. My mother and father were respecters of education. My mother was a teacher and so education was very important. It was important that I do well and I certainly enjoyed school there. From there I attended school here in Ohio, Central State University, and still went to a predominantly black institution where I majored in Elementary Education. I loved working with children. I loved the experience of being in the building and trying to identify how you could help all children, which helped me to make a transition to get where I was with school food service.
MJ: What is your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs?
LM: When I was in elementary school, because my mother was teaching, I always bought my lunch, and they were twenty cents. I was trying to think back and I think that at one time they were fifteen cents a lunch. The lunches were twenty cents. The milk cartons were still very similar to a lot of the milk cartons today, and there was always a pleasant time. One thing I noted, at that time we had an hour for lunch. You spent maybe 30 minutes or more; you had plenty of time to finish. Then you were dismissed at a certain time to go out on the playground. So my lunch times were very enjoyable. Even though we didn’t have the variety that we have today, we really didn’t complain about the lunch. I think the lunch people then took a great deal of time to try to make the meal special. And I resent when people talk about mystery meats. Because they weren’t a mystery, we had meatloaf and we knew what we were eating.
MJ: How did you become involved in the child nutrition profession?
LM: Before I go into that I do want to talk about in high school. And that was an individual that I used to share with people when I used to go out and talk to food service people. She was the head of the food service in high school and at that time we had two entrees to choose from. And we thought that was great, to go from elementary school where you had just the menu, the one item, you had no selection, no variety, and to go where you had two entrees to choose from. But she was a very pleasant person, outgoing person, and we always knew, when I think back on that, that she enjoyed what she was doing. There was always a pleasant smile there for us when we would go through that line. And you were asking me about how did I become involved? A long, long trek to that, because I worked in education for 43 years. I did 13 in Kansas City, Missouri, as a teacher. I spent five years in Lincoln, Nebraska, three years in the lab school and two years in central office. When I was in the central office I worked in multicultural education and so again it was very important to me that we considered the cultural differences of all children and making sure that we provided for their needs. From there I, I had student teachers the first three years, and I worked in the lab school with student teachers year-round before I went to central office promoting and doing workshops on multicultural education, so I had the background in doing workshops. When I came to Columbus, Ohio, I started out in the department where we provided workshops for teachers and worked primarily in the language arts, again multicultural education, and with parents, how to get parents involved in supporting their children and working with their children. I was in food service for 13 years and prior to that for six years I was special assistant to the superintendent, Dr. Franklin Walter. I handled a lot of problems, but primarily in the office at my desk, and I missed having the opportunity to get out in the schools. So we had three directorships to open up, and so I applied for the directorship as school food service director because I thought after handling all of those problems in the office, we worked closely with the governor’s office to respond to any complaints that came through, that I could do any thing. My staff used to laugh when I would say to them after I became director, “If I had had any idea how much was involved with the U.S. Department of Ag. program and all of the rules, regulations, and guidelines, I probably would not have thought that I could do it all.” But I am glad I didn’t know. Because it was the last 13 years as the director of the child nutrition programs were some of my best years and most enjoyable years. And so I got into it not really knowing what I was getting into. I had a strong background in administration, a good background in knowing how to get things done in the department. So with those strengths and I inherited a very strong staff. I used to say to them, “I don’t have food service background, but you are going to help me with that. Tell me when I am moving in the wrong direction. Don’t wait until I step in it and smell it before you tell me.” They were very good in letting me know when we might be moving in the wrong direction. But I also had a vision of where I wanted the office to go. My assistant superintendent who I reported to when I got the job said, “I want you to get visibility for this office.” So the other people in the department would know about it and get visibility and respect out in the community for the food service program, which was spread into the schools that we worked with. I know I have moved into some areas that you haven’t asked me about.
MJ: No, whatever you would like to talk about. Well, was there someone, a mentor, who was influential in directing you?
LM: My assistant superintendent, Bob Moore, Dr. Bob Moore, who was the one who said, “Get visibility”, and gave me the opportunity to really realize the vision that I wanted for this office; my superintendent, also. When I came in, we had not really computerized and he really supported me in wanting to move ahead, wanting materials to look professional, and we had the funds. Unfortunately, a lot of our money we did not use as one of the large states, and I was determined that we were going to use those funds to develop materials, to have workshops, and do the kinds of things to promote the School Milk Program and the Child Care Program throughout the state.
MJ: You’ve mentioned your vision several times. What would that be? What was that at that time?
LM: One thing that was very key to me, I had a computer as the special assistant for Dr. Walter. When I left that was 15 years ago, and I was very much concerned that we become computerized. I made sure that all of my administrators and their secretaries had computers, and eventually we bought computers for each one of our staff members, the portable ones that they could carry around. We developed a childcare program for our commodities, known as “CATS,” Commodities Allocation Tracking System. That program is still in force. We continue to update it. We are still updating that program. But we were connected with the federal system that was offering the commodities, so it came over that system. We were connected with the warehouses and connected with each one of our school food authorities. It meant that we could offer the items to them over the computer system. They could respond back and they knew immediately after they would send in what they wanted to select, how much was left of their entitlement. We also computerized what we called “CRRS”, which was our claiming system, the entitlement system, where their claims would come in through the computer. Up until then they had the bubble sheets. We had the money to spend on that program. I think our commodity system, the CATS, was probably one of the most updated systems when we implemented it, and then we went to the CRRS system, which was the claims entitlement system, where they would send their claims in and could get immediate feedback on that. And then another piece was processing with our commodities. At this point in time I was talking to J. R. Green, who worked primarily with processing when I was here, and still working here. They are now processing over 49 items and when I came on we were not processing. So we are processing items with chicken and beef and pork and with the bread items, the french toast sticks, and we are, I think, one of the few states processing as many items and making them available to schools. So that was part; and I wanted professional materials. When I came on they were already doing a lot of the in-services, and to expand on that and have what we call our mega workshop where we had a workshop right here in Columbus and the directors would come in. We picked up from one of our neighboring states to have a workshop for our supervisors and administrators out there that was geared just for them, and taking them all to a very nice place to have that workshop for two to three days – and then providing more materials. We did newsletters, getting those out. Updates. The U.S. Ag. program, constantly new things were coming down and I felt it was imperative that we meet with our people, making sure that they knew the rules of the game, because the program basically is fiscally punitive if you aren’t following the guidelines, if you aren’t meeting the meal pattern. And to me it was the responsibility of the state agency to assure that our clients knew the rules of the game. Now if they chose not to follow them, then it was fiscally punitive for them. But to make sure that we could get out even to our small school districts, so we would have our regional meetings, and we got the materials out so that everybody would have the opportunity to know what was expected. I used to call it ‘Where the plate hits the table.’ And the plate hits the table where the students are. And even though we are here at the state agency it is our responsibility to make sure that the key people are where the plate hits the table, that they get all the help and assistance that we can possibly provide for them.
MJ: Would you tell us a little bit more about your educational background and how that prepared you for the profession?
LM: As I indicated earlier, my first degree was in Elementary Education. I went back and got my master’s at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, and it was where I got a fellowship to go to school – Experienced Teacher Fellowship. We had people from all over. There were probably about 30 or 35 of us in that program, and a lot of emphasis was on multicultural education and working with people that way. When I finished and got my master’s I went into a building where a lot of emphasis was on the open school. And then my last two years, or our last year in Kansas City, Missouri, we received – in Kansas City the Board of Education received a big grant for process science and process math. I was selected to do the process science and process math in one of the buildings, many of the low income students attended that building, and working directly with the students then with the process science, recognizing again that we had the lunch program, and how important it was for children to have hands-on but that was still tied in very closely with the meal program. In the elementary building all of those children went to lunch. There wasn’t a lot of emphasis on the Breakfast Program at that time, which was quite a few years ago. From there when I went to Lincoln, Nebraska, working in the lab school, and again the school lunch program was very important. And throughout all of my teaching years we had cafeteria duty. We were the, we had times that we were there in the cafeteria to insure that the children had their meal, to encourage them to eat the meal, and have the emphasis on how important it was that they had the meal, and the milk and so on. And the teachers ate in a room that wasn’t too far. You could look in and see the students there, and they could see you in there consuming the meal. Fast food was not a part of the school meal program at that time. And then from there, coming here to the department and with all the emphasis on testing. Testing is a requirement here in the Ohio schools. They have a test that they have to pass in order to get their diploma. There is some consideration, I know currently from reading the newspaper, about whether that will still be a part of the students being able to get their diploma, but the testing is still a part of it. Recognizing from reading the materials how important nutrition is to cognitive thinking. Looking at the emphasis on how many people have a heart attack and how many of those diseases are connected with nutrition. After coming on with the program as the director, getting more and more involved in bringing in Doris Derelian, who talked about the Breakfast Program and her research that pointed out that the children who had breakfast, how much better they did, how often they were in the school, in the classroom on time, how far more creative they were, which is that higher level of thinking, those children that had breakfast. So as I learned after I became director, it became even more important that I knew that the meals were important, but when you have the research behind it, so that you could go out and say to that principal, say to that teacher, “Look, it is important that you have the Breakfast Program.” It was very difficult for me to understand how any principal here in the state of Ohio, being required to do the testing, and how many of them after the test scores came out, either were bragging about how well they did or making excuses for why their children didn’t do as well, did not have a Breakfast Program in their building. So in working with our associations and with our groups and frequently going out talking to our principals or the food service people, and even internally in our own department, constantly pushing that we were not just giving out cheese, because that’s what a lot of people remember, the old days of the cheese that was available that was delivered and given out to the schools. That we are far more than just cheese and what used to be the donut that came out that was available for the Breakfast Program, that was juice and a bread that we hardly use any more. And in my own staff meetings here in the department meeting with other directors, the emphasis to place on the importance of the school meal program and the professionalism involved. I am not sure I fully answered your question. You can see things that are close to my heart with that.
MJ: You’ve talked a lot about different positions you have held. Could you take us through maybe a chronology of or maybe what time period you held different positions?
LM: Okay. 45 years ago I started out teaching and spent 13 years of teaching in Kansas City, Missouri. The last year was with a special program with the on-hands science and then five years I was in Lincoln, Nebraska, the first three years teaching in the lab school where I had student teachers year round. The last two years I worked in central office and I was over the multicultural education program where, I would go out and do in-service with teachers. It was interesting in Lincoln, Nebraska, because it was not an area that had a large majority of minority students or people living there. But they had a forethought that they wanted to get multicultural education into their schools, and the first year I think it was eleven schools involved. When I got involved with the program the last two years all schools were involved. The expectation was that we live in a society; we need to know about other people’s culture. They are bringing into that how some students learn differently than others, that it didn’t have to do just with the students that were African American or students that were Native American, students that were, I think the term that they use now is Latino students, that there is a difference in learning frequently, and helping teachers to meet those needs. Some of us learn visually, some of us learn by hearing, others need to touch and feel, and that when you are introducing a new concept that you need to keep all of these areas of learning introducing not just visual but hearing and seeing and touching and feeling, and that was part of what I was doing those last two years. And helping people to understand that there was discrimination. Many of them thought in Lincoln that there was not any discrimination, and to share with them my own experiences with discrimination in growing up and in teaching, some of it that I was confronted with in Nebraska. From there, coming from, my husband’s job changed, and as people used to say, “What brought you to Columbus, Ohio?”, and I would say, “I am one of these independent women who follow my husband around.” So I started out here in the Department of Education in what was a teacher, the old name doesn’t have much meaning but it was ‘teacher in-service’ now. And we had developed reading materials and it was an opportunity for me again to do multicultural education and how to get parents involved in helping their students in reading and what was important, and creating some materials to move along in that direction. And from there I moved to being the last six years, six years prior to getting involved with the Office of Child Nutrition Services, I was special assistant to Dr. Walter, who is the Superintendent.
MJ: When did you come to Columbus, Ohio? I guess I am trying to get the time period here for someone reading this.
LM: Hold on, just a minute. [refers to notes]
MJ: Or just the time period. Would it have been the ’70s or the ’80s?
LM: I was here 26 years in the department. And so it has been 28 years ago. And so 28 years from 2004, that means I came here in 19… We came here in 1977. [laughs]
MJ: Oh, that’s okay.
LM: I made it harder than it needed to be. We came here in 1977. I went to Nebraska in 1972. And then 13 years before that was when I started teaching in Kansas City, Missouri. And really before that I had taught for a year in Des Moines, Iowa. I came out mid-year from school. I had finished college in three and a half years. And I taught a semester in Des Moines, Iowa, and that was really key for me because growing up in segregated schools, I went to Central State because I wanted to have the opportunity to be in a sorority, to hold an office, and schools in KU, Kansas University had just integrated, but students that I knew that had gone there did not have an opportunity really to be a part of the mainstream. And when I started teaching in Des Moines, Iowa, I had an integrated classroom. And I was the only black teacher in that building. And that was great to know that I could see students as students, and that I could work with all students, and that I could be a part of that staff and hold my own, and so that year and a half, well, really a half year, in Des Moines was very important to me. When I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to teach, it was a, I was in a building which was the second year integrating that staff and working in it. So it was wonderful to see that I could be accepted and I could accept people and we were just people, and the children were just children, and that you could love each and every one of them, and take them along the way. Did I give you some chronology?
MJ: Yes. Would you like to talk about your time as director?
LM: I love working with food service. In fact, I would tell food service people that these were 13 of the most wonderful years, even though I enjoyed teaching. But food service people will always welcome you when we would go out. I became a member of the American School Food Service Association. It is my understanding that changed to School Nutrition Association. I was very much a part of the Association, the chapter here, worked with the OASBO, which is the Ohio Association of School Business Officers and there was a School Lunch chapter. I attended all of their meetings, and there were other groups, the multi-unit directors. I attended those groups to bring to them the changes that took place and introduced the materials that we had. I found that food service people generally love their work. They were there because they wanted to be there. Frequently sometimes got beat up because they were told that you had to make sure you stay within your budget. They had limited funds to work with. But they were people who at Halloween they made pumpkin cookies. I remember one food service person said to me, trying to get them to eat their boiled eggs, she’d dye them orange and say, “Come get your pumpkin egg.” They do all sorts of things to try to make food service special for those youngsters. And we used to talk about the fact that how important they were in that building and sometimes they didn’t always hear that from their teachers, or hear that from their administrators. Many of them did get lots of support from their administrators who helped them to have a dynamic program. They would put in the Lunch Program, well, most of them had the Lunch Program, but put in the Breakfast Program and help them in that area. They attended our regional meetings that we would have during the summer, that we would have sometimes four to six regional meetings throughout the state. And the consultants, I have wonderful consultants. Before I came on, my predecessor would not hire anybody that did not have food service background. Many of them were nutritionists that had worked in food service. Some way or another they had food service background. An advantage that I thought where we were different as a state, our consultants not only went out and did the reviews, they did the technical assistance. So when they would go out and see that something was not done right they could provide technical assistance if there was a problem. They would help them in setting up their cafeteria arrangement to help move the students through as quickly as possible, which I thought was a big advantage for us as a state agency. They got very close to the people that they worked with and were constantly supporting them, getting many calls. I think people felt very good about the fact that they could call and not find that they were going to get zapped by something. There were times that I would get calls and I would say, “You don’t want to tell me that.” And they, because it was in violation, and then we would show them how they could get it done right, that they knew when we would come out, that we were really working with them, that we would follow the regulations, follow the guidelines. When we would find that there were problems those were some of the things that we addressed when we had the regional meetings so that they could understand, these are some of the problems. When we were helping them with Offer Versus Serve, helping them to see that when you had a variety of things that students could pull from, some were not equal- macaroni salad. Well, let me back up on that. There were things that, exchanges that were not true exchanges. That macaroni salad was not a true exchange for some of the other items that they had, and helping them to see that that was not like a vegetable salad or a fruit salad that would count as a fruit. And so these were the kinds of things that we were constantly doing. To me it was our responsibility to help them know the tools of the game. You do not send a team out without giving them the proper guidelines, giving them the tools to work with. And so, for our division here, my whole idea was not to go out and zap people, but to make sure they had the tools to work with. And we developed wonderful materials to go out and to assist not only the school foods, to help the schools, but to help the other child care agencies, because we had all the programs. We had the commodities. We had the School Meal Programs, the Lunch, the Breakfast. We had the Milk Program. We had the Child Program. We had the Adult Care Program. We had them all. And so trying to develop materials to assist them, making the evaluation sheets such that it was easy for them to follow, and when we finished the review just say to them, “Look, take this to your superintendent. Take this to whoever your director is, and let them see all of the things that you are responsible for, and how well you’ve done, to help them, to get the respect and to know that this is a profession that you are in and how many of these things that you are responsible for.” The thing that was most unusual for me when I came into the program, when I had been working with the U.S. Department of Education, you’ve got a grant, you had a wide window that you could operate within. With the U. S. Department of Ag., these programs are very prescriptive and you have a very narrow window to operate within and not a lot of leeway. And so to me it was very imperative that we work with food service people to help them stay within that window. It was, it was unusual for me to see how prescriptive these programs were.
MJ: How is Ohio different from other states that you have been in, with regards to child nutrition programs?
LM: I had mentioned earlier that in some states the people who do the evaluations are different than the people who go out to do the technical assistance, and I think that was a key thing for us. We spent a lot of time on training. We had sufficient funds as a large state, so we could do a lot of training. We did a lot of staff training of our own people. In fact, the Food Service Management Institute came out and did some training for us. We got grants, the grant that we got, nutrition grants, and we took that grant and used it to call a neighborhood network of training, so the Institute came out and trained our people. We developed materials. We have a wealth of resources among our own food service people out in the field. And so we thought, we can’t get to everybody, but a lot of our smaller school districts were not able to come to the regional meetings, because it was only one or two people in that building. So we developed what was called a Neighborhood Network of Training, and we divided the state up into, I think, five sections, and we had our own food service people apply for the position. We put the information out. So they came in and they interviewed, and we selected at least three people from each one of the regions who were food service people. And trained them on the materials that we developed. Some of the materials came out from the national office and then we developed materials on the key areas, on food patterning, how to Offer Versus Serve, how to prepare unusual meals to meet the needs of all of your students, and trained them. And they went out and did workshops after the school hours were over, and we called it a Neighborhood Network of Training, NNT. Which was wonderful, which I think was very different from some of the other states that being a large state, we have very large school districts, and we also, mid-sized, and some very small school districts, especially down in our Appalachian area, to get into those buildings. So that was one way that we were different. The computer programs that we developed I think were a little bit different from some of the other states. I mentioned the processing, the person who does that processing. When we first started out processing chicken, one of the companies that came, handled ten truckloads, and we swallowed and said, “Yes.” It became so popular, he just indicated to me, we are now doing 275 truckloads of chicken. They are doing the chicken nuggets, the chicken patties, spicy chicken patties, just lots of things. They are doing the processing of beef, beef crumbles, beef patties, taco meat, meatballs, Salisbury steaks, pork sausage links. So I think that as a state we are probably doing more processing of the raw items that we can pass on, especially to school districts that are smaller districts and don’t have the capability of getting enough to process, or it is more expensive, because they don’t have a lot. When we are doing 275 truckloads of chicken, then we get a good bit, and we can pass a lower cost to the school districts. And I want to do that. I want them to use the items that we have processed as a state agency. And it is delightful to see that they are still doing it and it is still growing.
MJ: Do you see a difference in the menu items, like in other states, like maybe that you have lived in and schools that you have worked in, the menu items that are offered, over the years?
LM: Yes. Well, as I mentioned, when I first started out it was very limited. You had this menu at the elementary school and that’s all there was. Now I find in many of the schools they may have two or three or four items that the student can select from to meet the vegetable/fruit part of the program. They may have a couple of items for the entrée. At the high school they certainly have. I go into the high schools and they just have a variety of salads that the students can select from and several vegetable items and a couple of meat items that they can choose from. And a variety with the requirement for more bread, a variety of grain and bread items that they can choose from. So I know in this state we have done, have a wider selection of food items that the students can select from. And the pride that they take in, when I’ve gone into some of the schools, that those salads and things are just as colorful and eye appealing as going into any of the restaurants. The presentation, a lot of emphasis put on presentation.
MJ: Well, we’ve talked a little bit about this, but could you talk a little bit more about the changes you have seen in the child nutrition profession over the years?
LM: More awareness. More professionalism. Helping. Promoting the program in such a way that there is an appreciation of the people out there where the plate hits the table. More emphasis because of obesity in this nation, we have had medical professions to come out to our meetings and talk. With the changes in the requirement of the meal program and those changes came about in an effort to reduce the fat in the program, to reduce the sugar. We had training of our own consultants where we went into one of the junior colleges, Columbus State, where they trained our people as well as, we provided and paid primarily the bulk of the training for food service people who wanted to come in, to the point that we had one person who was going in for the third time and we had to say, “No, you’ve been here two times already.” Tying up the cognitive thinking and saying to food service people, “Ask your principal to let you come in and talk to their staff to share with them what you are doing to help them to support them in the classroom, that by providing the breakfast for them how much better off.” And we’ve had teachers to say that the students who have had breakfast, how much better off they are, not sleeping mid-morning, to share with them why the Breakfast Program has the requirements, the milk, the requirement of the milk, the osteoporosis is not just a problem among women but also the young men, too. And that when they don’t take the milk, what is happening to the bone mass of the young people. Being able to bring forth the research that it is not just somebody coming up and saying you ought to do this but when we can provide the research and we’ve gone into getting the research materials and making them available to the schools and mailing them out to every building. That professionalism I think has grown. But nutrition is on the front burner. Our concern with the pop machines in the buildings and really going out to say, “You cannot have pop served, you can’t give it away, the machines have to be turned off while the children are in there.” I wish, and I know that at one time pop was not supposed to be turned on at all during the day and there was a, I think one of the big pop companies sued and won. So the pop can be in the buildings, but we have asked during the School Lunch Program that the machines be turned off. Depending on the dedication of the principal whether they move it outside the door, around the corner, or take it seriously and put fruit juices there. I know one person who, they don’t have a breakfast program, but they put breakfast items in the machine, yogurt, which has become acceptable at the breakfast bars and things like that have become acceptable and less candy and things that really cannot be a part of the School Meal Program. So that professionalism that I think is really important if we can keep it on the front burner. One of the things I was most proud of, and I’ve worked very closely with the now the School Nutrition Association, not only with the state agency but with the national group, going to those wonderful meetings that they have, and the LAC which is the Legislative Action Conference, which pretty much when I was attending it, I went to every one of them except for one during my 13 years when we had the opportunity to visit the legislators on the Hill. And there was a time that they wanted to reduce the School Meal Program, and not be an entitlement program, and people really pulled together and made a difference. And to be able to say to school lunch people, “We have made a difference.” We really kept our entitlement program where they were talking about reducing it because they wanted to reduce the amount of money that was coming in where school lunch people went in when they were first putting in the coordinated review, and we were able to delay that by one year, because there were some things there that weren’t positive to the School Meal Program, to say to them, “You do have some control, you do have leverage in getting involved in your associations so that they can go out and say, ‘we represent this number of people and we can make changes.'” And I think over the years as I said through the coordinator review, we delayed it by a year that we delayed, not delayed but eliminated the effort to prevent our programs from being an entitlement program. They wanted to just have a certain amount of money; when the money was gone it was gone. Now, if you serve a pro, a meal, a breakfast or lunch that meets the requirements of the program, you are going to get your entitlement regardless.
MJ: What do you think has been your most significant contribution to the child nutrition field?
LM: One is the awareness of the educational community because that was my background. When we pulled together some materials for child care, they were pulling together snacks for the Child Care Program, we also made it an educational program where we identified books that could be read for that program, the activities that were promoted during that program. Going into to, say, to food service people, tie it up with the education, during, we have ‘Right to Read Week’, which is a promotion, and I worked with that years ago, a promotion of reading, and getting involved with those teachers doing ‘Right to Read Week.’ And what the food service people would rename some of their food items to tie it in to books and that whole total ‘Right to Read Week.’ Putting the emphasis on the cognitive thinking that tied in with nutrition, and that materials that came out at that time from the Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy from Tufts University, the links between nutrition and the cognitive development, promoting that not only here in our own department of education, but the promotion out there. The newsletters that we got out, the development of materials that could be used out there. I felt that the materials that came out from the USDA were more professional, and promoting those materials and developing our own materials, and pulling together the … When we did the Neighborhood Network of Trainers where we utilized food service people out there, when we developed the whole pack using the transparencies, the handouts that they could do, the evaluation sheets, all of those and tying it into the educational component helping our Neighborhood Network people promote those programs there. Development of the computer programs for our commodities as well as entitlement in the processing of foods. I found out they are now processing 49 items. I wasn’t sure at first when I talked about it. I see on my notes there. So, I thought those were my contributions with my staff, because nobody can do it by themselves and getting people to buy into that vision and wanting to do it. As I said, I had a strong staff that had food service background to begin with. And just trying to take it up a notch.
MJ: Do you have any memorable stories that come to mind when you think about your years in the profession?
LM: When I first came on and the region that it was in was the USDA region out of Chicago. And shortly after I came on, I was sent by my assistant superintendent to go in and meet with them. And then, they were very good about having regional meetings for their states that they worked with. And Stan Garnett came out to that meeting from the national group. And at the time they had said to us that the taco chips were not acceptable as a bread item even though those taco chips were the same items as the taco shells that counted as a bread. And Stan, we talked to Stan about it and he was saying the whole idea of chips created like in a fast food potato chips, so in working with him we could call it taco rounds, taco pieces. So coming back and one of my first meetings with the Ohio School Food Service Association group, to share with them, “Alright. We know it is ludicrous, but it doesn’t count for you to call it chips. But this is what you can do. You can call them taco rounds. You can call it taco pieces. And tell the people, you have leverage here. Tell the people that you are getting them from, ‘Don’t put them down on your bill as taco chips, put them down as taco rounds or taco pieces.’ Then you get credit for it.” And to try to understand where they were coming from, to say, “Yes, this is ludicrous, but here is what you can do to make it workable for you.” To work with them on the milk piece and the chocolate milk, and getting the research out to them. We know that kids will drink chocolate milk where they won’t always drink all of the white milk. And you can have less fat in the chocolate milk. I think many of the companies are now doing 1 percent fat with that. And to give them the information to say they are going to drink more. They are getting the calcium. Giving them the information that sweetness does not make a child hyper, and as a teacher I used to think that after Halloween, they are hyper because they’ve had all this candy. They aren’t hyper because of the candy; they are hyper because they stayed up half the night. And helping them to get that information that they can carry on to say to their principals, “The chocolate milk isn’t making them hyper, but they drink more and they get more calcium. And it works better that way.” To me the fun was seeing the problems and finding a way to get through it. Where they had told me that on our program, how late they were when we were changing of the fiscal year did not change until, what, October. Was it September or October? How soon I forget – September. The federal fiscal year changed in September, and here on our computer program they were always late getting their checks, their September entitlement, because here in the department, which was not a program that we had developed, they couldn’t get both groups on there at the same time. They had 60 days to get their September claim in, which frequently meant they were up into December. I came back and asked and found out that now the computer program was large enough that they could put both fiscal years on there. And just being able to go out and find out what their problems and concerns were, that frequently it could be handled very easily. So I enjoyed the rush and that there was a problem and we could get it resolved and because of my previous position here in the department, I knew the department, having been with the superintendent, and I didn’t beat up on people even though I worked very closely with the superintendent to get things done, always being very reasonable. When I became the director people in those key positions were still willing to work with me and help me work through whatever concerns and challenges that we had. So it feels, I enjoy that and by the time after being professionally in education 43 years, when I decided to retire, it was really time to retire, I had said to people, “I didn’t have the fire in my belly to do another computer program.” It was time to let somebody else come in and meet the challenges. The superintendent that I started out with, he used to say, “We don’t have problems. Big companies have challenges, and we need to look at it as challenges and look at it from the point of view, there is an answer out there somewhere. We just need to find the answer, and the challenge is there to find the answer and not get bogged down that this is a problem. There is an answer.”
MJ: Any thing else?
LM: I enjoyed working with the American School Food Service Association, which was the name at the time. My first conference was a Legislative Action Conference and how good I felt about those ladies and gents, and most of them were ladies. How informed they were. How committed they were to food service and moving it along. And how respected they were. I enjoyed that Legislative Action Conference and the guy who was the, oh, why didn’t I jot his name down? Who was the lawyer that worked –
MJ: Marshall Matz?
LM: Marshall Matz – how could I ever forget his name – who came and talked to us and made us feel good about going on the Hill and that we had something to say, and how influential we could be. And then being able to, I think that was the first meeting that I went to because I came in October of ’90 in this position, so that Legislative Conference came first. And then going to their conference during the summer that they would have. Eventually I became a state agency representative. I won that election, to serve on the board for two years. And those ladies are just super ladies, with their devotion and I think that is what has kept food service on the front burner. It has prevented us from losing a lot of what we needed to have in moving this along. I enjoyed doing that, enjoyed getting that newsletter out to all of the state directors, putting on a conference that we had in Savannah, and the National Food Service Management Institute brought in speakers for us; wonderful. Jane Logan was just super in working with me and getting that done. I enjoyed that whole time of feeling that we were accomplishing something, and that it was getting back to eventually where the plate hit the table with those children. You may not want to keep this in. My grandson who has just gone into first grade and the, he came home after first grade saying, “I am so hungry. I didn’t get a chance to finish my lunch.” Well, because he enjoys socializing instead of eating his lunch and when the bell rings for him to go back to class, he wasn’t going because he hadn’t finished his lunch. So it was important to him. So he finally learned to eat a little bit faster, which gets me now to a piece that I think is so critical, giving youngsters the opportunity, not to say he didn’t have the time, but giving them the opportunity and it was something we tried to get in here in Ohio, to get in the guidelines here, to say a child ought to have at least 20 minutes from the time they get their tray, not when they get in line, that they need to have that time to sit down and chew the food and eat the lunch, and it ought to be a pleasant time for them. When I would do the in-services with the teachers, with the food service people, to say to them that sometimes that may be the most pleasant time of the day for those children, that the smile that they get from you may be the best smile that they got that day. And to know that you have prepared this meal for them, that even when they get older, that they may not give you the compliments, but they are there every day. And for too many of those children that’s the only nutritious meal that they get that day. And when they come to breakfast that’s a special time for them. So I am hoping that in some way or another, my thing with the American School Food Service Association and what I said when I worked with Stan Garnett and the individuals there at the national level, if the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture could work together on that the emphasis on how critical, when we talk about ‘No child left behind,’ and we don’t provide the funds and we know how critical, how cognitive thinking is hooked in so with nutrition, why don’t we work more closely together with Education and Ag., to make sure that if we don’t want a child left behind we certainly have to make sure that they are well fed?
MJ: Well, thank you so much for talking with us today.
LM: I know that I skipped all over.
MJ: No, no, you did wonderfully.
LM: It’s a time that is close to my heart and a time that I really enjoyed.
MJ: Thank you.