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Norwalk BoE considers food service changes

Sustainable Food Systems President John Turenne speaks to the Norwalk Board of Education last week in City Hall.
Sustainable Food Systems President John Turenne speaks to the Norwalk Board of Education last week in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — An executive chef would be a good first step in addressing the food quality at Norwalk Public Schools, a consultant said.

The report issued Tuesday by John Turenne of Sustainable Food Systems is the first comprehensive report NPS has had to address chronic complaints, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said at the Board of Education meeting.

While Adamowski acknowledged that the BoE’s primary business is education, goal five of the strategic operating plan is to, “Ensure safe and attractive schools that support learning and provide a nurturing, inclusive environment, with positive behavior interventions and supports at every school.”

Turenne pitched food service as a business that generates revenue, and in an effort to appeal to the audience, Spanish meals would have an appeal, he said.

“I am not talking about putting in nacho bars,” he said, but

Another great thing would be breakfast to go.

Salad bars could be phased into the elementary schools, and the middle school salad bars should be upgraded, he said calling it “low hanging fruit.”

“There’s grants available for purchasing salad bars,” he said. “We’re not talking about a lot of space, they can be put on tabletops.”

Local food is a big part of schools today, he said.

“The national Farm to School program has been blowing up, growing every single year,” Turenne said. “It’s promoted. It’s very easy for a school district to say they are doing it, it’s very difficult to actually do. I think you’re dealing with that here, where you’ve it’s marketed in some of the materials and menus but it’s not being followed through as much as it could be.”

Specifications should be rewritten every year, he said.

Similarly, scratch cooking is easy to say but difficult to do, he said.

“There is not much scratch cooking going on here, not because you’re way behind on the norm,” he said.

NPS could do more scratch cooking by using the central kitchen or the middle school kitchens, he said.

A vacant food service station at Brien McMahon High School could be used for grab and go food, like breakfast smoothies, he said.

The management team needs to be consolidated as there is no need for a director of distribution, he said, advising that the district invest instead in a district executive chef. There’s also a problem with not having enough workers to cover absences, creating a frustrating waste of time that could be prevented with a temp pool, he said.

BoE Chairman Mike Lyons asked what possible first steps there would be.

Plans are already in place for the coming school year, Turenne said.

“I would meet with your food service provider and make suggestion to see what they can help you to do to change up that leadership,” he said.

BoE member Sherelle Harris said she loved the idea of breakfast but wondered about the hygiene of doing it in classrooms.

No Kid Hungry has resources to help design the program, Turenne said.

Lisa Lenskold then explained her pilot program at Brookside Elementary School, which includes specially coded trash bins that are placed in the hall and then picked up by a team of older children.

The report gives NPS a direction forward but, “I think we have to conclude that our current system does not give us the capacity to implement these recommendations,” Adamowski said.

He said he expects that he and NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton will make recommendations in a few months.

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