Interviewee: Ruth Gordon
Interviewer: Annette Hopgood
Date: April 15, 2011
Location: Savannah, Georgia
Description: Ruth Gordon was a school foodservice director and a Georgia Department of Education nutrition specialist.
Annette Hopgood: I’m Annette Bomar Hopgood, and I was the state agency director in Georgia from 1979-2006, and we’re here today in Savannah, Georgia, at the Georgia School Nutrition Association Conference, and we’re going to be interviewing some of the people that had significant roles in the Georgia School Nutrition Program. Today I am interviewing Ruth Gordon. Ruth let’s start today by you telling me a little bit about yourself and where you grew up.
Ruth Gordon: Ok. I grew up in Winchester, Virginia, and actually went to James Madison University to do my undergraduate work, and came to Atlanta to Emory University to do my dietetic internship, so that’s how I ended up in Atlanta, and really decided to just try to get a job and stay maybe for one year. And so my first job was at Grady Hospital on the pediatrics floor, and then from there went to teaching school nursing and got my master’s degree from Georgia State University. And while I was working on my master’s degree I met June Barrett. And June and I were in graduate school together and so she must have explained to me several times what she did.
AH: What was she doing at the time, because she was in Clayton County.
RG: No, she was actually a contract administrator for a contract between Georgia State University (GSU) and the Southeast Regional Office, and they were doing NET training in Georgia and South Carolina in private schools, residential childcare institutions, and childcare centers. So anyway, she hired me as a sub-contractor to develop a handbook on infant nutrition for family daycare home providers. And that was kind of my first exposure to child nutrition programs and the NET program. And so then after I did that for her she hired me for some other things, and then she moved over to the GA Department of Education and GSU hired me full-time to replace her, so I was really a Georgia State University employee doing NET training at the regional office. And then when June left the Georgia Department of Education and went to Clayton County, then I replaced her [at the Georgia Department of Education.]
AH: Oh, ok. We got that story straight now!
RG: Right! So I replaced her a couple of different times.
AH: To let other people know, June Barrett went to Clayton County, which is South Atlanta, after she left the Department of Education. And then she went to Chattanooga, TN –
RG: And now she’s on the Alabama staff.
AH: And now she’s on the Alabama Department of Education state staff. That was a story in itself. Tell me a little bit about what you remember first about child nutrition, school lunch. Do you have some early memories?
RG: Well I’m probably one of the few people – when I first started school I went to four-room school. It just had four grades and so they did not have a school lunch program, and so my mother packed my lunch every day.
AH: And this was in Virginia?
RG: This was in Winchester, Virginia, right. This was just a real small neighborhood school. And so one of the things that I remember about my packed lunch was every day she put a moon pie in my lunch. And I have to tell you that if I was starving to death and there was just me and a moon pie I would just have to starve to death because –
AH: Are you tired of moon pies?
RG: I never want another moon pie. But when I went to fifth grade we did have a school lunch program and I remember participating in that. I don’t really understand what was happening in the school lunch program at that particular time, but I do remember working in the cafeteria, and I particularly remember one day when I had a new dress on, and it was my turn to work in the cafeteria and I was in the dish room, and I was so afraid that I was going to get my new dress dirty.
AH: Worried about your new dress? I would have been too. You mentioned your education background. Tell us a little more about that and what credentials you hold right now.
RG: Ok. Well, I am a Registered and Licensed Dietitian.
AH: That’s licensed in the state of GA?
RG: Licensed in the state, right. And then also I have the SNS credential, which of course you get by passing the test with the School Nutrition Association. And then in the State of Georgia they require an SL5 certificate, which is really issued by the Professional Standards Commission, and all of the directors in Georgia are required to have thatif you are director in a district with more than 3300 full time equivalent students . The GA Board of Education thought it was real important if the local directors were required to have that, that state staff had that as well, and so even being registered when I joined the state, I still had to go back and take three additional courses –
AH: You loved that didn’t you?
RG: Oh I did, because I had a daughter at that time that was nine months old and so that was a little bit hard for me to do, but I did it and have maintained that and am proud of it.
AH: Tell us about the jobs that you’ve had in child nutrition. You’ve mentioned a few already.
RG: Ok. I kind of told you how I got started working as a sub-contractor and then a contract administrator. Then of course you hired me at the Georgia Department of Education as a nutrition specialist.
AH: What did you do as a nutrition specialist?
RG: Well, actually tried to teach the local directors I think, how nutrition kind of fit into the program, the theme. I remember doing some nutrition modules where we developed the – and at that time we were actually doing transparencies – that they could use. And we tried to make them camera-ready so that I would present them to the directors and they in turn could use them to present them to their managers and school food service assistants. Also I worked on some special projects. At that particular time the Nutrition Education and Training Program, or the NET Program, when it was first implemented back in 1977 I believe, there was a person on the state staff in Vocational Education named Ann Register –
AH: And that’s where the grant was placed in the GDOE – in Curriculum.
RG: Right. And so she had started some projects up there, which actually I remember one of the first things I worked on what the Wally Bodkins Show, and that was probably one of our less successful adventures, but some of the things that she had done even before I got there, she had done Fruits and Nuts, which I think was very successful, and that was really broadcast on educational television. I understand that was done by a consortium of nine states, and I actually did some research on that, so that was Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee, that went together and developed that. And that was administered by the Southern Educational Communications Association.
AH: Those were all NET funded, Nutritional Education and Training Program funded projects?
RG: They were. So I remember even as a nutrition specialist helping with some of that. But then from nutrition specialist, which is going back to my own career within the Georgia Department of Education, I was promoted to Nutrition Education Program Manager. I believe that was when Lynn Kirkland left the staff, and when Lynn left the staff, actually I think Ann Register left the staff, and the NET Program was sort of falling apart and transferred down to school nutrition, and that was when I became the NET coordinator in Georgia and stayed there stayed there until 1999, when I left to go be a food service director in Floyd County, and I was in Floyd County for two years, and then came back as a school nutrition consultant, and then from consultant was promoted to the accountability unit program manager in 2002, and then state director in September of 2006.
AH: You did a lot of things. You wore a lot of hats.
RG: Well, as I told people, I can’t keep a job! I transfer around a lot, but I think I had a lot of really good experiences on the school nutrition staff, and then once I retired in 2009 I formed my own consulting company.
AH: Well, we’ll talk a little bit, and I know I asked you not to give a history of the NET Program itself, but talk about the basic philosophy behind the Nutrition Education and Training Program and how you saw it emerge, and it’s potential that it had. The program no longer exists because –
RG: It has not been funded.
AH: It has not been funded. Talk a little bit about the program itself, because that was the bulk of your experience.
RG: Let me start by just showing this poster. Now this poster actually was sent to me by Loris Freier, who was the assistant director in North Dakota and she retired a couple of months ago. And so she had talked to me and said, “Well, let’s try to get some NET materials together that we can submit to the Institute.” And this was one of the posters she sent and it kind of reflects the bridge between food and health, and I also think we felt NET was a bridge between the school nutrition program and the curriculum. So we felt like that was a very good poster that kind of portrayed the purpose of the NET Program. Actually USDA had a factsheet about the purposes of NET and providing training to school food service employees was certainly one of the goals. Providing training to teachers was another goal. And then trying to use the cafeteria as a learning lab so that the students could learn about nutrition in the classroom and then go apply that information in the cafeteria. And so we think that even now there were a lot of strategies that were introduced in the NET Program such as the school garden for instance, that are very popular now, but we talked about them back then too.
AH: Now originally the NET Program was funded at a pretty significant level. I think it was authorized at fifty cents per child initially, which in Georgia right now would give you a grant of about $600,000.00, but that changed over the years pretty dramatically. I remember one comment you made at a national conference about how it had decreased to a level that probably wasn’t enough to print a Xerox copy for each student. Tell me a little bit about the money.
RG: Well, as I mentioned the program was first authorized in 1977 and initially the funding level was about $26 million. Now I think when it was first developed the intent was to try to have fifty cents per child, and I don’t think it was ever –
AH: – ever funded at that level.
RG: It was never funded at that level. It went from the $26 million in 1978-79 to about $20 million in 1980. And then the funding dropped in 1981 to $15 million, and I did my research on this, and from 1982 to 1999 it was simple a $5 million level of funding. And then it started coming back up. In 1991 we got $7.5 million and then $10 million in 1992 and 1993 and then just a little bit over that in 1994 – $10.3 million. And then I think the funding just dropped off to little of nothing, until eventually we had no funding at all.
AH: Right, right. Have there been any programs that you see that replaced the NET Program, or that come close to replacing the NET Program – or substitutes for?
RG: I think that probably some people thought that the Team Nutrition program would maybe replace the NET Program because one thing about the NET Program is it gave the grant to the state, and then the state was able to develop a plan and say how they were going to use it. I think the Team Nutrition grant first of all has been competitive, so they haven’t provided funding to every state –
AH: Equitably, yes.
RG: And then the second thing is they have developed materials and sent those down to the states and there’s no state infrastructure to make sure that those materials are used.
AH: Because USDA has pretty much controlled the funds. What about the Institute? When the National Food Service Management Institute was developed it really assumed some of the responsibilities of NET – do you think?
RG: It really did. It really provided more of a national approach, because at the time like for instance, some of the materials that we were developing in Georgia – of course the good thing about any NET material is that other states could use it, but there wasn’t a good avenue for sharing between the states, and so we would maybe share at regional meetings or national meetings with each other, but people would not always know exactly what other states had available. Now one thing I do want to mention is that we did send copies of NET produced or NET funded materials to the Food and Nutrition Information Center in Beltsville, Maryland, and we also sent copied to the National Food Service Management Institute, so even though those materials are outdated, some of the strategies that we used I think are still effective.
AH: And probably some of the criticism of the NET Program ultimately, rightly so or not, was that there might have been, because there wasn’t a way of coordinating what all the states were doing, so there could have been some duplication. I don’t know that that’s bad, because even within a state like Georgia, some of the things that would come out of the Institute now, or from another state, might have to be adapted in some way to your philosophy in the state, or your rules and requirements in the state. So there is a need for state intervention even with materials that are developed out of those alternate programs. From the early days NET has put a lot of material and a lot of programs to make available to local school nutrition directors, and in Georgia we were fortunate to have directors who could take those materials and do things with those materials and programs. Tell us a little bit about – you mentioned Wally Bodkins is probably the worst program – I’m not even going to ask what Wally Bodkins was, because I know – but tell us a little bit of some of the things that you thought were really successes and accomplishments in the NET Program in Georgia.
RG: Well I’d like to first of all mention that Ann Register, when she was there one of the things that they did was develop sort of what they called film slips I think. This was a folder that could just fit down into any regular filing system and it had a lesson plan and it had some mimeographed ready sheets that could be used by teachers. And then instead of a film strip it had a little slip. So there were several of these that she developed, and I can’t remember all of them, but one of them was on Crunchy Critter, and I do want to mention that one because that was developed, actually I think Ann Register with Georgia Southern University and Frieda Brown was the person who had developed the voice on that, because there was an audio tape that went with that too. So she developed the voice as well as the cartoon character. So once I became NET Coordinator we picked up on that and actually made him into a mascot for school nutrition. And I do want to mention Dr. Wanda Grogan at the University of Georgia because she was very instrumental in helping us to develop this costume. And I want to show a picture of what [picks up a poster]
AH: You didn’t wear the costume today?
RG: No I didn’t wear the costume today. As a matter of fact I was talking to someone recently about that and they said they were going to look and see if they could fine where that costume still might be because we had several versions of that costume. But this is what Crunchy Critter looked like, and he was kind of a cross between a beaver and a bear. I don’t know that he had any specific animal –
RG: Right. But we made him into a costume and we actually loaned the costume free of charge to local school systems and he appeared in health fairs, on floats, when there were local parades, and we actually made some video tapes called The Crunch Critter Club, and then we did a second tape called Crunch Critter Returns, and so this picture was taken during the taping of some of these videos, and I need to mention that this little young lady on this side is my youngest daughter. And as I said, when I started with the state she was nine months old, and now she is twenty-eight years old and just had a son.
AH: You have another grandson and a granddaughter. How time flies. Crunchy was well recognized in the State of Georgia as being a mascot for the program, and I see some of the posters in the background that you were all so instrumental in developing. So the saga of Crunchy was pretty extended throughout your career.
RG: Well really it was because we did those two video tapes, which initially were intended to be used in childcare centers, and then they were so popular that they really got adopted I guess for K-2 and were broadcast on Georgia Public Television, and we were nominated, which was a great honor to me, nominated for a southern regional Emmy, for one of those shows.
AH: From educational television.
RG: Right. And we lost to High Q, which is on I believe ABC channel, so just to be compared to that I thought was a great honor.
AH: It was wonderful. Tell us a little bit about the training kinds of programs that you were involved in for food service people.
RG: While I’m talking about Crunchy I want to mention – and this is really kind of across food service as well as for the students – one of the things that we did was develop a point-of-choice test, and so for elementary school we used Crunchy, and we had hand stamps, we had cling-on for the service line to point out what was the healthiest choice available, because in Georgia there’s a lot of choices offered, and so we thought at that time it was important to let the students know what was the healthiest choice, and so that was Crunchy’s choice. And we provided like announcements made on the intercom system at the school, and newsletters to be sent home for the students, so it was a total package of things. And then we expanded on that idea. From Crunchy’s Choice, for the high school we did another kit called Make a Body-Conscious Choice, and of course the artwork was different on that, but the intent was still the same – dealt with students making a healthy choice. And then we did a third point-of-choice kit a little bit later. I believe that was about 1996 when we did that, because it was right before the Atlanta Olympics and it was called Lunchtime All-stars Go for the Gold, and it was kind of coordinated with that Olympic theme.
AH: And we had to be sure we didn’t plagiarize the Olympic terms or anything like that to come close to getting in trouble. So Lunchtime All-stars was also a point-of-choice kit.
RG: It was. So that was one of the examples of some of the materials. Of course we did other things for food service employees. Really I remember that back as early as 1987 we had a grant from the American Heart Association to modify one of the pieces of their training material and we developed a course called Heart Healthy Food Preparation in Schools. And we sub-contracted with Marsha Jennings over in Richmond County to develop at that time kind of a slide program on how to modify their cooking and food preparation to make it more heart healthy. So I feel like my whole career has kind of been dedicated to trying to get schools to implement the dietary guidelines. We released in 1991 some modified recipes where we took some of the USDA recipes and tried to show them how they could modify that. And I don’t know if you remember or not but we actually sub-contracted with Fulton County to test some of those and then we tried to go down and take pictures of some of those. And I remember specifically an oatmeal cookie that we were trying to reduce the fat in that cookie and you went down with me to test that cookie and you said, “Well I don’t know. I think that cookie still has a lot of fat in it.” And Agnes Standridge, who was the person working with us said, “Well, how much fat would you really like to have in that cookie?” And so I recalculated for her again and she prepared it a third time and we all really felt like the cookie with the least amount of fat was the best cookie, and we could not believe how much we reduced the fat and still had a really good quality cookie at the end.
AH: Yea – I don’t remember that. It sounds like a fun thing to do though. I like eating cookies.
RG: Well probably that was one of the most challenging things because again our intent was we wanted to release those modified recipes with the pictures, and we did not have a food photographer and I think we were never really satisfied with the quality of those photos, so we released the recipes but never the images. Now along with this – and I guess really if I have to say the one thing that I am most proud of in my career in the ONE or Orientation for New Employees training course and that is a 30-hour course. And we developed that because the state board passed a rule that said that anybody who was working in school nutrition needed to complete an orientation course. And so once that rule was implemented you said, “Well, let’s develop some materials.” And so initially we brainstormed what we thought the content should be and I remember very specifically having a staff meeting and we were at Lake Jackson and Wanda Grogan was there and so she said, “Well you know, we should do videos to support that course.” And so with that I think you approved that and so we decided to do those videos. And as someone told me when we were working on them, the videos, each lesson – there were sixteen lessons – and each lesson was supposed to be thirty minutes, and probably the intent was to have fifteen minutes or so of that 30-minute lesson be video presentation. So that’s longer than Gone with the Wind if you put the whole thing together. But that was quite an undertaking, but it was very well accepted and utilized in the state and I believe thanks to the National Food Service Management Institute, was distributed nationwide to anybody who wanted to use it, so I think it was used in a lot of other states as well.
AH: Yes. Some other states adopted it as their official orientation program so it has been around and it continues to evolve I think, is what the best description of that. Talk a little bit about how culinary kinds of issues emerged in Georgia. We were talking to Linda Ervin earlier and she was talking about having hired a chef before she left and retired, but talk a little bit about the culinary initiatives that you saw.
RG: Well, I remember when we – and of course I found Dr. Wanda Grogan over at the University of Georgia because we did an RFP and she responded to that – and so we consequently ended up working with her several years, but I remember her telling me, “We have a new quantity kitchen on the campus of the University of Georgia and I don’t think it’s being fully utilized.” And so I said, “Oh, we can help you with that, because that would be a wonderful way for us to train some of our food service managers.” And so we got the idea that we were going to develop a 30-hour course for managers. And actually, as far as I can put together I think the first year we did that was 1991, and so this is going to be the 20-year celebration because we’ve been doing culinary institutes for twenty years, so I think they’ve been really quite popular and well attended. And we have such success stories I think. Of course at that time Janet Cope was hired by UGA to work with trying to implement culinary institutes as well as other materials that were being developed at the University of Georgia for us. And she tells a story about a manager who came – so many managers who came to the University of Georgia campus had never been away from home before, or who had never been on the university campus to spend the night, even though they were working to fund their children to come to the University of Georgia, but one particular manager who decided when she left there to go back and get her degree. And if we motive one person to do that that was very satisfying I think. But we heard really positive things about people coming there and going and implementing what they’ve learned.
AH: And just I think a few years ago the staff that are currently in the Department of Education implemented a Culinary II because so many of the managers wanted to come back for more of that culinary experience, that they created the second level for those that wanted to come back.
RG: Then of course the Institute picked up and did some things on culinary training – and now Michelle Obama.
AH: And USDA. I have to tell you a story about when we really wanted to – we knew there was a need to really focus on food quality, as there always is – one of the initial ideas in the Department of Education was to utilize one of the schools, one of the Atlanta city schools that had been closed down. And I remember taking Dr. Charles McDaniel, our state school superintendent out to one of the schools because we thought ‘Well, we can set up our kitchen and have our own fulltime staff to teach the culinary experience to students and let people come to Atlanta’, which in itself was probably not a good idea, come to Atlanta and go through that program. And I remember one day we took Dr. McDaniel out to this particular school that we had in mind, and he just shook his head – because the school had been closed down for a while, or the kitchen had been closed down for a while – and he said, “I think y’all need to come up with a better option/alternative to this.” So this was our alternative to having our own kitchen – so the fact that the University of Georgia had their production kitchen was wonderful. And that also was being taught at Georgia Southern I think.
RG: It was. We expanded it because some people said they didn’t want to come all the way to North Georgia.
AH: It’s a long drive. It’s a long state to cover. What was – and I know culinary was done for a number of reasons, but and you saw a lot of changes in the nutrition requirements of the program, and I’m looking here at some of the things that you probably did to respond to changes in the nutrition requirement. What was the Road to Change video about?
RG: Well that actually was a video where we tried to develop a criteria where the local school food service programs could do a self-assessment, so it was kind of saying what they should be doing, and then they have an evaluation checklist where they can say what they were doing and whether they were achieving these things or not, so again showing how we have really been trying to get this implemented for a long, long time. And of course the state then had these requirements for Training in Depth courses, or TID courses, that are required for managers, and so a lot of what we were doing, we were trying to implement that and integrate that into TID, and we did at least three TID courses that I can think of. One was called Training Skills for Managers, and we did that in an effort to prepare the managers to implement ONE, so that was quite an undertaking, because when we were releasing ONE we wanted the managers to be able to teach that to their assistants because we knew that if people are really going to do what they have learned in training they need to be told by their managers.
AH: On the job.
RG: Exactly. And so we wanted the managers to be ready. So I remember that first summer when we first were field testing really training skills for managers, we were trying to get the managers prepared to train on ONE, we trained about 850 managers that summer I think.
AH: And they learned some really good practical skills too – how to make presentations and talk to their PTAs – I think it really elevated the confidence level of a lot of those managers for them to have that course.
RG: So we did that course, we did one called Marketing Management, and then we did one called Menu Management. We actually had a Team Nutrition grant. I think it was the first year that Team Nutrition grants were made available and we wanted to do a CDROM to support the Menu Management course, so we did that and it is available. We tried to do some interactive things . I mean I remember specifically one of the things that they had to do was pick up different kinds of food and place it in the right food group in the pyramid.
AH: Now that was done in cooperation with which university?
RG: Georgia Tech. So again we were always trying to scan the community and find out where our resources were and that was a good relationship with them. And they were learning at the time how to use some of that software too.
AH: So we were their guinea pigs as well.
RG: Sometimes that’s one of the lessons I think I learned – that timing is real important. Sometimes I think that we were on the cutting edge.
AH: Well one of the things that you were so good about was reaching out to a number of audiences, whether it was different colleges and universities or different professional organizations in the state so that you could take advantage of opportunities when they came up. You’ve already mentioned the American Heart Association and the work we did with them. And you’ve mentioned almost every big college and university in the state, so I think that was a real tribute to you, to be able to take advantage of opportunities when they came along.
RG: Well, thank you.
AH: You were always there at the right time, right place.
RG: And we had a great working relationship with the Georgia PTA as well. I mean we did many grants with them. We funded the handbook to help them decide how to determine what fundraising things they might do. And I believe that Jana Kicklighter at Georgia State University authored that for the PTA. We did articles for their newsletter, so we tried to do a lot of work with them. And then even the wellness conferences that we were doing the Georgia Heart Association – we kind of expanded that concept the Georgia Dental Association and the Georgia unit of the American Cancer Society to have the cancer prevention seminar and a dental –
AH: And they sort of tracked the evolution of the dietary guidelines because each year you would pick one focus area, whether it was dental health or heart health or any of those and focus on those, so our employees had a lot of exposure to content related to the dietary guidelines for a long period of time, and I don’t know whether you mentioned the Good for You manual that we did. We tried to research and find out the history of that. That also was an early effort, one of the first efforts that we made to really take the dietary guidelines, which did not apply to children at that point in time, and try to have people understand how they could apply those to their program.
RG: Really one of the last efforts that I think that I undertook was still related to the dietary guidelines, was Building Healthy Student Bodies, and we did that in 1999, and that was eight videos with instructional materials, and that was really targeted to school nutrition, and we really took each of the nutrients such as calcium or vitamin C and tried to present some factual information about it, but then to show how that related to the meal pattern and what they were doing and how they could prepare the food to enhance that particular nutrient.
AH: And that was also used for training of classroom teachers. And many school districts chose to use that to get professional development for their classroom teachers to renew their certificate, so it had a wide usership across the state. Tell me about some other things that you remember being most significant.
RG: Well, in addition to these videos –
AH: You were busy.
RG: Steven Spielberg of nutrition. In addition we were doing newsletters, so at that time we had newsletters for each one of the programs and we had the Child and Adult Care food program during a part of that time, so we had childcare newsletter and a school nutrition newsletter, a NET newsletter, and a food distribution newsletter, and we did about three of four issues of that a year I think. We actually did a course for teachers, a staff development course called Concepts and Controversies. I think we kind of modified that to Nutrition and Basics because Concepts and Controversies was a 50-hour course and we kind of broke it apart into a 20-hour course and a 30-hour course, again trying to help teachers know how to teach this, because I think some of the early research showed that the amount of information that teachers had about nutrition was about the same as what our food service employees had about nutrition, so there’s a lot of misconceptions out there that need to be corrected.
AH: And that was Nutrition Basics and Nutrition Issues.
AH: You keep saying ‘we’. You had some really good staff people that you worked with over the years. Are there any in particular that you want to recognize for their contributions?
RG: Well it was a joint effort. Certainly with the quantity of things that we did I couldn’t have done it myself, but Janet Cope, who started working with us at the University of Georgia and eventually came over and joined our staff; Bonnie Brown was on the staff, and so I think I was fortunate to have the administrative support, to have staff who could help do these things – Artis Hough and Polly Edwards in particular. And we tried not to do these things in a vacuum. We actually tried to involve the whole staff.
AH: Right, because you worked for each of those other programs.
RG: Exactly. So even the school nutrition consultants whose primary responsibility was to do CRE reviews were very involved, like for instance in the Building Healthy Student Bodies. Each one of those were a lead on one of those videos and helped us identify local directors that we could pull in, that helped us coordinate the content of that, so it was a collaborative effort.
AH: You were also very involved with an organization of Nutrition Education and Training coordinators around the state. Talk a little bit about that because people may not remember – because the NET Program per se is no longer funded – may not understand what y’all did as an organization.
RG: I think it was frustrating, because obviously you can tell I have a passion for this, I mean I think what we were doing was very important, and it was frustrating to see that NET was not being funded nationally. So we thought perhaps if we band together and try to speak with one voice, that perhaps we would get maybe a little bit more attention. So I’m not sure exactly what year we drafted the bylaws, but I remember there was a group of us that were – probably attended the Society for Nutrition Education, their national conference, and got together and worked on bylaws. I remember Carolyn Trivette from Louisiana and Loris Freier from North Dakota and Judy Schure from Colorado. I mean we had a lot of conference calls, but we actually formed this organization, and I’m not sure it was a popular decision because I remember that the School Nutrition Association, at that time I guess ASFSA, was not pleased. And we actually looked at the state territories for the WIC coordinators and tried to look at how they had done to see if we could get some lessons from them. But I know we did form the National Association of NET Coordinators, which was not a big organization. We talked about that a lot in terms of who we should allow to join, but we just felt like that whoever was the NET coordinator, who got appointed NET coordinator for their state, would just automatically be a member. So I don’t even think there were dues but we just wanted to speak with one voice, and we felt like we did accomplish a lot of things. I was actually president of that of that association in 1993 and secretary in 1988. And so when I look back at what we got done, one of the things that we did for instance was develop a national NET logo, and again Wanda Grogan at the University of Georgia was very instrumental in doing that and I have that logo on electronic file that I can give to you. But it was actually even used on the USDA factsheet that was designed in 1992. It was used on the listing of all the NET coordinators, and we used it on all the materials that were funded by the NET Program. So we thought it was important to give visibility to the NET Program and let people know, because I think a lot of people didn’t know how NET was benefiting them and so we wanted to let them know that the NET Program can help fund some of these materials. We did have a strategic planning conference in March of 1992 where we actually developed a strategic plan for NET and developed strategies and tactics that we identified that could be used to help accomplish those things. And actually there was Guidance for a Strategic Plan that was published in 1993, and then collaboratively we put some of our money together and we had a Needs Assessment Guide that was developed by Lumina Training Associates (Ann Robinson), and that was released in 1994, and then Evaluation Guide in 1995 that also was also developed by Lumina Training Associates.
AH: That’s Ann Robinson.
RG: That’s right. And we were being told that we weren’t going to get NET funding because we had not demonstrated that what we were doing was effective and we were we told that just simply counting and saying how many pieces of material we released was not effective evaluation, that we were supposed to be changing behavior, and of course we’re still trying to change behavior.
AH: It takes a LOT to change behavior.
RG: It does.
AH: And probably during that period of time you needed your own structure, your own organization, because some of the NET coordinators were still in the area of curriculum, or in other agencies, so they weren’t necessarily in the same agencies as the child nutrition programs that they were supporting, and I do recall, having been on the SNA board in the early-90s, is that there was never a lot of, even though I think SNA was responsible for the origination of the NET Program in the legislation that established NET, they really didn’t support the NET Program the way that, in my opinion, they should have over the years, so I think it was right that y’all established your own organization to try to go to work and keep the program alive.
RG: Well, I know that we really believed in that, and I was told by a very key pioneer person in school nutrition that perhaps when all was said and done, that nutrition education might be the most important contribution that we can make for the children if we’re thinking about what’s going to be needed for the future.
AH: I think what goes around comes around, so even though the NET Program per se is not currently funded that function has remained a viable function I think, in most of your state agencies, and hopefully people will continue to realize the value of that.
AH: Talk a little bit about automation in Georgia. I know when I first came to work for the Department of Education in 1978 I don’t think that we had anything. I remember buying a text editor, which was like an upscale version of an electronic typewriter, and it was used somewhere. But talk a little bit about how you saw it evolve, because you were sort of on the fringes, and then when you became state director you were having some significant things going on more recently.
RG: Well, I guess when I look back I remember when we basically had one computer on the state staff and nobody really was that interested in using it. I think Ann Olson was the one who kind of took the lead on that. And we had some programs that were on floppy disc and I remember when Ann took that computer to have a hard-drive installed in it, and I remember thinking ‘Well, why do we need that? Floppies are just fine.’ So we have come a long way, and then from there I remember we had three Wang terminals for the whole program, and this is when we probably had childcare too, so if we had something that we needed to have put on Wang we had to kind of get in line in terms of waiting until that could be entered. And then I remember when we finally got all the desktop computers, and I remember Eugenia (Seay/Bozeman) really resisting that and saying that she didn’t want her own computer on her desk. And then remembering a years later when she was having computer problems and she said, “What am I going to do? How am I going to do my job?”
AH: Without her computer.
RG: Right. So again that kind of showed how far we could come along. And then I remember if we were trying to get something to the field offices we either had to fax it or we had to make copies of something and send it and wait for it to arrive by snail mail – and thinking about how we have improved our communications with them where we had instant access to email and then actually the VPN so that they can just go right into the common drive that we have there in the state department and access the documents. I remember you, Eugenia, Elaine Freeman, and I getting tablets with touch screens just before you retired.
AH: It made life a lot easier.
RG: It sure did.
AH: We were talking this morning with Don Williams about how the automation of program data from the school district to the state had evolved over the years and the fact that we had an education network in the 1980s, sort of pre-internet, when they were able to upload data to the state – some of them still submitted in manually – and then we had internet versions, we had several versions of what we called our online reporting system. We had a number one and a two and that had to be modified several times because of the platforms, even though I don’t know that the school districts knew that, but you sort of supervised the most recent project that you have called SNO. What does that ever stand for, because I don’t think I knew?
RG: School Nutrition Online.
AH: School Nutrition Online.
RG: We just thought it was kind of different. We needed to make sure that people understood that it was different, because before I think it had been called ORS, which stood for –
AH: Online Reporting System.
RG: Ok. So basically we’re doing the same thing. We just wanted to repackage it.
AH: And y’all did some real significant upgrades.
RG: We did. And primarily we were doing that because the department had made the determination to change from Oracle to SQL I believe, which was major, so it was major to make some of those changes. The reports look different but in fact they get much of the same data.
AH: And that same data that the Department of Education collected over the years sort of – what’s being collected now is sort of equivalent to what was even being collected in the 1960s, the way it’s collected and how it looks when reports come back has changed. I remember us being in the local school district when we would send in our information manually. It had to be keypunched to go into the data and you might get a report back six months later. Now the systems you worked with get immediate turnaround on their data.
RG: I believe with ORS sometimes they had to wait overnight, and I think that was going to be a change like you said, immediately with the new SNO system.
AH: Tell me about some stories of things that you might want to share that happened during your career. There’s a lot to condense into forty-five minutes.
RG: Well it really is. One of the things that I wanted to mention are the Wellness Week conferences, because I think that was significant. I believe it was 1985 when Rendell Stalvey, who was our GDOE Health and PE coordinator, came down and said there was an opportunity to go to Seaside, Oregon, to observe a model of training that he was interested in implementing in the state. So I was on that original state leadership team that went to Seaside and that was just a wonderful experience.
AH: And what was the purpose of this conference?
RG: Well, the purpose was to really reach teachers with the message of wellness, and with the philosophy being that if people became more convinced with the importance of wellness themselves, that that would affect what they taught in the classroom. And in Seaside they had like over a thousand people at this conference, so that was kind of overwhelming. But we came back and we decided that we were going to implement our own Wellness Week conference in Georgia, which we had every year at Jekyll Island, and we had those for fifteen years, I believe, from 1986-2001. Eventually they were phased out, but I think we did sort of limit, we never wanted ours to get that big. We asked local school systems to send a team and while they were there they were supposed to develop a plan for how they were going to implement wellness in their school system. I was kind of the nutrition person on that team so planned the menus, and I remember I took a log of grief sometimes for some of the changes I made in the menus.
AH: Yea. Those high-fiber menus were rough on people.
RG: And Sandy Denam, who was also very involved in the wellness team, he rewrote the words to Whole Wheat Rock and Roll to Whole Wheat Roll and dedicated it to me because of all of that fiber. So I planned the menus. We also selected nutrition speakers and used some of our funding to help fund some of those speakers. People were there for a week and we had them up and exercising at the crack of dawn, and we planned things all the way through the evening, and they had team meeting where they worked on their plan. For me, for instance Rob Sweetgall I think was one of our speakers, and he actually came all fifteen years that we did the Wellness Week conference, and he had walked across America and had some books that he had written for students on walking.
AH: And he always had a walk didn’t he also, in association with the wellness conference?
RG: Yes. And sometimes walked in from – I’m not sure – outside of Brunswick, about halfway between Savannah and Brunswick he would start walking and walk on in to Jekyll Island. So I know that has been an impact on my life because I’ve certainly done a tremendous amount of walking that I would not have done had I not been involved in that experience.
AH: And those events, the wellness conferences, when they stopped they were not stopped because they were ineffective conferences. They actually had some pretty good benefits back to the local school districts when they implemented the plans, but there was a political sort of philosophy in the state that wellness was not core to the education mission, and so that was the reason really that they ceased.
RG: Exactly. I’d like to talk about some of the other collaborative efforts that we were involved in too, because we did sometimes go together with other state agencies to develop projects. And one of those was photos of recipes, and I think that was spearheaded by the Mississippi Department of Education, but there were several states that went into that, that developed that. I know we purchase those and distributed them statewide. We also had a slide tape program that the Southeast Regional Office developed for cashiers on how to recognize a reimbursable meal and I remember serving on that taskforce, and again there were several states that were participating in that. And then we also funded a project called Culinary Techniques for Healthy School Meals that Dr. Ann Robinson worked on, and I believe that was a collaborative effort where she developed quality scorecard for people to use when the prepared their products. So those are I think again some good ideas that we had that we worked collaboratively on.
AH: A lot of collaboration to accomplish so much in really what was a short period of time. Anything else that you’d like to add to what we’ve talked about? You’ve covered a lot of territory here.
RG: I think that’s probably the bulk of it. I think it’s been a tremendous experience. I’ve probably had to opportunity to do more than I ever dreamed I would ever be able to, and I would just say to anybody else who’s considering taking school nutrition as part of their career, that they just need to have a passion for the mission, and there’s plenty to be done.
AH: And energy for the mission, because you always demonstrated such a high level of energy for whatever you were engaged in. And everything was always executed with utmost care and confidence. We appreciate you sharing this small bit, so thanks Ruth for being here today.
RG: You’re welcome.