The Wichita Falls ISD is dishing out a smorgasbord of changes this year when it comes to school lunches.
It was in February that the district inked a deal with Chartwells to take over its food service operations. It is the same company contracted to provide food service for Midwestern State University.
Regional Chartwells Director Mike Leonard on Tuesday updated school board trustees and Wichita Falls ISD administrators on the transition from a district-run food service operation to one run by Chartwells.
One of the features in the company's proposal that impressed trustees and administrators was the prospect of a food truck.
“Our food truck, we’re looking at 10 days for it being delivered,” Leonard said. “...The manufacturer contacted me last night and this morning … They had to order a whole new housing unit.”
After the food truck arrives in Wichita Falls, Leonard said the goal is for the mobile eatery to head to all the secondary campuses and “have it as an additional feeding site.”
“Also in the high schools, we’re adding a secondary kiosk … so students will have another choice to go to.”
Besides a food truck, Chartwells is serving up plenty of high-tech.
“Our Nutrislice monitors, our app, is going to be installed … tomorrow (Wednesday).”
The Nutrislice online and mobile platform will give parents and students access to digital menus. Through the app — parents are linked to the Nutrislice-powered school lunch menus on the Wichita Falls ISD's own app — parents can even see nutrition information, such as carbohydrate counts, to track meals for a diabetic child, for example.
“The app is really cool,” Superintendent Michael Kuhrt said. “... You can see a picture of it (the food to be served). You can see nutrition information. … It’s sharp.”
“We find the biggest advantage is for school nurses,” Leonard said.
They can pull a student’s nutrition card, for example, and can view allergen information. Students and their parents can look at a menu and see the allergens in a meal. If you click on the beef-and-bean chili nachos to be served Aug. 22 at Barwise Middle School, for example, you can see milk, soy and tree nuts icons under a photograph of the meal.
Leonard also reported on staffing.
“Of the 125 (food service employees) that were with the nutrition department, 62 stayed with the WFISD, 49 came to Chartwells and, when we did our initial meeting last week, 14 decided not to return,” Leonard said, adding that those transition numbers are about what Chartwells expected, based on past experience with other districts.
“We usually see a 20 percent (loss of employees) when we take over a school district. This was 10 percent.”
Most of the employees who decided to leave, he said, retired.
“Currently, we are recruiting for 22 positions and hiring eight full-time staff to be full-time subs … They’ll be floaters around the district.”
The company also is retaining a temp agency to fill positions if needed.
“All the positions are filled for managers in all the schools, and the staff — the ones that were present — learned about safety, ordering, basic (food) preparation skills and marketing. Our St. Louis regional staff did all that training … so everyone received top-notch training,” Leonard said.
He also related the names of resident Chartwells staff that have been hired and are based in Wichita Falls, including resident manager Robert Jones, resident dietitian Sarena Glenn and marketing specialist Marci Spruiell.
A newly hired resident executive chef also is in the process of relocating to Wichita Falls from Oklahoma.
Leonard said Jones has been in Wichita Falls since July 1 meeting with the district’s principals to find out what their expectations and visions are for food service.
Trustee Bill Franklin requested a board walk-through of a food service areas to see some of the changes for themselves.
The Wichita Falls ISD in February approved, by a vote of 6-1, outsourcing the management of its food service operation for the 2017-18 school year to Chartwells.
Besides a school food truck and the Nutrislice app, some of the other features the company offered:
- Chef-to-school, when chefs visit schools and introduce different food items to students
- Nutrition education
- Webtrition, a menu-planning software Chartwells uses
- Culinary internships
- School gardens, in which schools might grow some of the vegetable and herbs they’ll eat.
The district over the years has relied on prepackaged meals — ones they don’t really cook but heat up — because it’s easier to meet federal nutrition standards that way.
By outsourcing food service, the district hopes to return to more onsite cooking and increasing food quality.
Chartwells said it wants to help the district with efficiencies, such as measuring and minimizing food waste.
Chartwells operates in 36 states, working with around 600 school district.
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