Continuing a Strong Legacy of School Nutrition in Georgia

Full Transcript

Dalia 

Hello and welcome to episode eight of School Nutrition Dietitian. Today I have Dr. Linette Dodson on the show, State Director for the school nutrition program here in Georgia. This is an exciting opportunity to get to hear about our director's journey into school nutrition and also hear her perspective on the importance of qualified leadership. There are little tidbits and career tips, time management tips, sprinkled throughout the interview. You don't want to miss this.

 

I was afraid to call anyone that. I kind of have up on a pedestal in my mind too early on. Because I was afraid I'd have some sort of ridiculous technical snafu and complete the whole interview and then realize I didn't press record. But anyway, I've worked out all the kinks. So I know I at least have pressed the record button. I've got that much.

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Yep. So good. Good.

 

Dalia 

I wanted to start with what brought you to dietetics in the first place. Why were you interested in studying nutrition?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Well, I think quite honestly, when I started out in college, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do, I think I knew then I definitely wanted to be in a field that worked with people. And basically supporting people as best as I could. I wasn't sure exactly the application of that. And I did have a strong interest in chemistry. So I actually started out as a chemical engineer major, and quickly decided that wasn't really where I wanted to be. And I had a personal interest in nutrition. So I discovered dietetics as a career option, still not knowing probably as much about it, then as I do now, obviously. And of course, when I was starting out, we didn't have the luxury of the internet and resources to even understand, I think totally what the role was we It was really kind of old fashioned, we had course catalogs. And so I read in the course catalog basically what you know, a dietitian did and found it interesting to me and I wanted to help people early on, honestly I was focused on wellness, I knew that was more than preventative wellness type approach was, I think, my focus from the beginning, which was a relatively new concept, to be honest. So anyway, I applied and was accepted. And originally, I actually applied to colleges for chemical engineering. And I took my first year and did just general stuff, kind of getting my basic things out of the way, and ended up transferring my sophomore year to Iowa State University, which at that time had a very highly recognized dietetic program. And they were patterned after Cornell, which was considered the number one program at that time, it was the mid-80s. And that at that time, Cornell had what was considered the number one program and Iowa State at the time was honestly considered in the number two spot. It was a very strong program, and they had their didactic part that was part of it. And it was a cut program. So you did your internship while you were there. And they had a large internship program, there was 20 spots.  I received one of those spots, which also helps with getting those requirements completed, you know, with graduation, so in essence, it was kind of like putting five years into four years.

 

Dalia 

So more like how some nursing programs are still structured now that they've completely changed how they place the dietetic students in their rotations. How strong of a academic background were you coming from if chemical engineering was on your radar back when I'm assuming women weren't really dominating in that field at all?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Yeah, yes. And honestly, that was true, just in general. There weren't a lot of women that were in even calculus classes, ironically, when I took calculus. So that was one thing. And of course, in dietetics, it definitely was more predominantly women. You know, and, again, I kind of went back and forth between dietetics and trying to decide where I fell. And I actually majored in food service management in dietetics. So my focus, my electives, were really in the management, side of it, and kitchen design and all. So I had a lot of coursework around that. My junior year, there was a class at Iowa State. It was called the Tea Room, it actually still exists. It was a practicum type experience to where you manage the kitchen, planned, the menu, the order, it was a very formal lunch setting, we served 150 people, a lot of them were like professors and outside folks that came in, and it was formal table service. Even the plating was designed, all of those details were designed into the course you did every job, but at least once you were the manager of the whole kitchen and dining room experience. And so that was really probably where the switch was turned on. For me, I did that experience. The professor I had was awesome and at the end of it, she told me and she may have told every student this I don't know. But she told me that in all her career, she just had never seen anyone that had handled the kitchen and the planning and all so seamlessly. And she basically, you know, told me that she felt I had a lot of talent in that area, and was curious, you know, what my focus was for the future. And so there were a lot of things I liked doing and enjoy doing. And I just couldn't really find that one thing, you know, it's like, oh, this is it. I wish I was some one that had grown up knowing I wanted to be a dietitian, or you know, run, school food or, you know, whatever. I didn't have that kind of vision. But at that point in my life, that was kind of like, oh, wow, you know, she saw something that she thought I did well. I felt like I did a lot of different things pretty well. But it wasn't, you know, I just didn't have that one thing that was my passion, if you will. So that was really a turning point for me. So that was where I focused a lot on the food service management side of it still doing clinical dietetics, of course, and I did well with that as well. I had community nutrition experiences as part of that, and I enjoyed those, but definitely focused on food service. And at that time, clinical dietetics was pretty different. Even in my internship experience, I saw some dietitians that had some pretty significant roles, but I saw some dietitians that I felt like kind of functioned with their hands tied more and we're dealing with patients in the hospital setting that were a lot of times, I had a lot of terminal patients with cancer and secondary, like diabetes related diseases. It just seemed like, you know, sort of just being supportive and trying to offer direction, you know, for them to make good choices. The impact seemed pretty minimal. I think that frustrated me at the time. And again, being engaged in the management side that was really where I focused. So when I graduated, I took a position with a company, really with the idea of learning more about operations and having a stronger food service foundation, because I knew a lot of what I had with academic I had worked in college food service a little bit one summer, I'd done an internship between my junior and senior year with a company in Kansas City. That was a restaurant chain, basically, that had a cafeteria style service. So I learned, you know, a lot, but I still felt like I was lacking the knowledge that I needed. So I picked that company because they had really the closest standards to textbook type operation that I'd ever seen. And they had standardized recipes. They had inventory control procedures. Everything was they like training videos that they had standardized, everything was very well planned. It was a very sound best practice type of application. I went to work for them, and as a result, worked a lot of hours and met my husband but never sat for the RD exam. Because I didn't need to be a registered dietitian in that arena.

 

Dalia 

Were you seeing the overlap or potential overlap between food service management and wellness, like you initially were interested in?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

No, I did not actually, you know, they had a fairly diverse menu, a lot of salads and vegetables and fruits and things, certainly, definitely healthy options. But it was a family style, cafeteria service. And so, you know, I can't say that wellness was like the focus, they had a definitely a good menu, they had fried items and all too, but, but they had a lot of variety on the menu. It was more really about learning food service operations for me at that point in my career. So I met my husband, and then we got married. And we both continued to work for the company and our careers progressed.  I was expecting our daughter.  Typically we worked about 14 hour days, and I was six months pregnant with her actually and had one day off. I knew that that wasn't the lifestyle that I wanted to have as a mother. It was hard because we made really good money in that setting. Commercial food service paid very well. So taking a step back from that was a little bit of an impact on our finances. But my husband and I both agreed that the both of us could not work in that arena. So he continued to and his career progressed we ended up having actually all three of our kids. They were two years apart, did some little things on the side and, and long story short with his career, he decided to leave that industry and actually went into healthcare, food service management in the hospital setting, with at that time it was Marriott later became Sodexo. So trying to get a little bit better quality of life, that's what actually ended up bringing us to Georgia. Prior to that, we were in Arkansas. He was at the University of Arkansas Medical Center doing their food service there. The town we lived in was advertising for a school nutrition manager, cafeteria manager. And so at that time, our youngest son was about three. And so I was thinking about going back to work just kind of part time. And so I went actually interviewed for that job. And the director was a registered dietitian. And she looked at me and told me basically, like you need to go back, finish your dietetics and do what I'm doing. The town we lived in, actually had a question college that had a dietetics program.  When I investigated, I was actually at the point where my internship was going to expire, because I had basically 10 years to sit for the exam. And I was at like nine and a half years or nine years at that point.

 

Dalia 

Did you have to send something in basically saying at some point you intend to take it or you can really just do all the required coursework and just wait until you felt like taking the exam?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

So I had the prerequisites, I had the internship, you know all the prerequisites for that. Then I had the coursework done. So yeah, all that had to be submitted to CDR. But back then the exam was a paper test only administered twice a year, which is why I hadn't done it. The first time, I should have sat for an October after I graduated, that I was opening a cafeteria in California training the commercial baker, and working, you know, ridiculous hours. And in hindsight, I should have just gone ahead and sat for it, but I hadn't had time to study. So I just felt like no I'm not going to do it. And then that next year, we got married. And then a year after that I had Courtney. So it was just life kind of happened and kept pushing it out. I knew I was fairly strong in the food service side, I had done some little side gigs. We went to a really large Baptist Church in Texas, and I did a business men's lunch there that we fed about 160 people, and then they had me do the Wednesday night supper, I had a staff that did that with me. And so that was about 350 to 500 people that we fed there  are so just kind of like little side gigs that I did to get a little extra money and kind of stay in it. And I had friends that wanted to learn how to cook. And so anyway, that was kind of where that was that when we moved to Georgia, I went ahead before we moved and went and took my medical nutrition therapy class over because I knew I hadn't done clinical dietetics for nine years. So I wanted to take a refresher on that and then I also to medical terminology, because I knew if I understood what the words, meant, then I could better you know, understand the questions and determine the right answers. So I basically went back and re took those two classes. And we moved to Georgia on April 1. And I sat for the exam that April, about two, three weeks after that at Emory and passed the exam first time, and actually had created my own study materials. I mean, I didn't go do like Inman or anything like that I didn't even really know about it. I ordered the CDR study guide and kind of built things out from that. So, anyway, in the meantime, my husband was here, and there was a local hospital that was looking at contract hospital food service. And so Marriott had gone in and done a survey. And when they did, they decided that they didn't really want to invest a lot in that small hospital. So my husband, knowing that I was interested in getting back into dietetics and all asked if, you know, if he was okay in giving them my name. So I went and interviewed with the administrator. And basically, he was, you know, super excited and supportive. And so they basically hired me, I ran the department and I also was their first full time clinical dietitian, because I just been functioning with consultants. So they were trying to get Joint Commission accredited. And so having a full time RD definitely helped raise their level of patient care.

 

Dalia 

Did you have any anxiety about going back into the workplace with so much responsibility, like right out the gate?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

No, to be honest, I don't remember that being an issue. I knew I felt fairly confident with the department. I felt comfortable handling the food service side of it. I was excited about the patient care. I honestly had such a strong foundation from Iowa State and the clinical at that time they were very, very strong in clinical dietetics.  I had a strong internship experience with them. We started doing patient care even in our junior year of college. So I had almost two years of clinical experience because  the way that program was designed then. I don't remember being afraid. I think the only thing I honestly remember being a little bit nervous about was handling TPN, you know, tube feedings,  I felt fairly confident I'd done that a lot in my internship, and not a lot had changed with that, really.

 

Dalia 

Did the pharmacy double check orders?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

 We worked together.

 

Dalia 

That would make sense.

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Yeah, the TPN was really the bigger issue for me, honestly. The times that we did that was more with surgical patients. So I do remember, like having to call a surgeon one time, because he forgot to order lipids to go with the TPN. So then he was like, well, you just write the order then.  I did write all the tube feeding orders. The doctors had me do that. You know, because the success was better. You know, at the time, they had kind of been doing it old school. So I think we raised that level of care there. But TPN was kind of, one of those more infrequent things. So but, you know, otherwise, like general diabetic diets, I felt very comfortable counseling patients. Even obesity related thing, sodium, renal patients. I definitely was in general practice. But that the majority of the patients I saw were probably diabetics truly, at that time. So it was interesting, though, because I always had a variety because it was general practice.

 

Dalia 

So when you looked at the vacancy for the food service manager position, and you were advised to go back and sit for the exam, did you end up taking school nutrition job at that level? When you came into school nutrition did you enter in leadership?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

I did. I was at the hospital for like four and a half years and one day someone came in and put the ad for the director job at Carrollton city schools on my desk. I wasn't looking to leave the hospital at the time, I really enjoyed my job. But my children were in the Carrollton school system. And I didn't know anything about school food service. But I was interested, I was intrigued because of my children being in the district. So I went and interviewed with the superintendent, his name was Dr. Ronnie Williams.  I obviously didn't know what I didn't know. But I did know good food service management. We had brought the food service along in the hospital. We were kind of known for having, really good food, we actually had a lot of community people that came and ate with us to the point where our dining room was too full at times. That created some issues with administration sometimes. Because it was in a smaller town, there weren't as many restaurants so people knew we had good food so they came and ate with us a lot.

 

Dalia 

Oh wow, is that common?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

It was common in smaller towns. I think before, you know, there were as many restaurants choices. It was pretty common in the south for people to eat at the hospital. So I went and interviewed with the superintendent. And of course, being a registered dietitian, allowed me to have a provisional certificate for the vision because they had a certified director, and they wanted to maintain that certification, and wanted me to get a Masters which I didn't have any problem doing. Like I told Dr. Williams, I just hadn't had a purpose in doing it before that. So, you know, it was exciting to me to think about doing that, knowing that I was going to apply that in school nutrition.

 

Dalia 

Before the professional standards was it mandatory was just the preference of that particular school system at the time?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

No, it was mandatory. It was made mandatory in 1984. So this was 2000. The previous director had the credential; she had been the director for 17 years. They had always had a certified director since professional standards had come into existence. So I was the second one and of course, they wanted to maintain that standard. And I did.  I just went ahead and did a master's degree within, I had a little bit longer time because of the provision, you know, getting a provisional certificate and being an RD back then the rule read that if you are a registered dietitian, I think you had five years to complete the Masters. I went ahead and did it in two years. Typically, you have three years to complete your certification, but I just went ahead and did it in two.

 

Dalia 

What made you decide to pursue your doctorate as well?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

That's a good question. I think, to be honest, getting involved in school nutrition, it showed me a lot of things, one, how important wellness is. To me, school nutrition is one of the best wellness programs our nation provides, if you know if it's handled correctly, and students are offered opportunities for nutrition education alongside of it all. So I think I just felt like, not only were we feeding children just in general, but we were feeding children well, and hopefully teaching them how to make better choices. So through that process, I felt like, we came a long way in Carrollton and really standardized. I had amazing employees and amazing managers that really ran very strong operations. We had well trained staff, so I felt like things were running really well. I had met Dr. Jamie Thornton, and even Dr. Katie Wilson. I was a little bit familiar with the Iowa State program. At that time, it was very focused on school nutrition, the time that those ladies went through the program. By the time I applied to it, they had a different chairman of the department and it was more of a generalist PhD, which actually I'm kind of grateful, that it was. But so I started in 2011 decided, you know, I think I'll go pursue my PhD, I enjoyed doing my masters. And I thought it was going to be a lot like that, to be honest. But I found out very quickly, it was not exactly like my master's. It was much more difficult. It was honestly probably the hardest thing I've ever done. But it was probably the most rewarding thing I've ever done as well. It forced me to learn a lot of things, really chiefly among that being able to write at a higher academic level. Also familiarizing myself with research just because running an operation and running a school food service program is such an involved job that I didn't always have a lot of time to read research. I think I read more research when I was in clinical dietetics, because I would look for things to support practice, especially since I was general, in those obscure cases that would come up, I would look for the research to support what the best diet was for that patient. So in school food service, I did you know, read from the Institute of Child Nutrition, and all that but I my time was so limited. Stepping into that highly academic setting where a lot of the cohort I was with, were actually current professors looking to add that next credential. So they were very well versed in research. I definitely had a lot of experience. So that helped me and they were interested in my experience. So that was kind of a fun balance. But I think, primarily, the reason I did it was for just personal growth, to be honest. I just felt like it was something I wanted to do. And I'm not sure that I had necessarily an endgame goal in mind with it. People would ask me all the time that Why are you doing this? What do you want to do? And I don't know that I had that vision, to be honest.

 

Dalia 

 You just wanted to experience the professional growth

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Yes. And the challenge, you know, associated with that. And the timing of it in my life, my son was graduating from high school, my youngest son. Even though I was working, I still knew, you know, it's would to be a little different to be an empty nester. So I think that helped fill a little bit of a time void there, it  definitely filled the time void I had no life for a few years.

 

Dalia 

That's another question I have, what time management tips do you have for the rest of us? It sounds like you have packed an incredible amount of productivity into your days. When you're running a department, raising teenagers, and studying how do you do that?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Well, I have a very, very understanding husband, and also understanding children. They were willing to support me in some just basic, you know, household related things. I would come home from work.  I packed as much as I could into my work day and would try to leave at a reasonable time. Sometimes I stayed later. But I really would try to lead by 5:30 every day. I would go in typically before seven, to work between 630 and seven, and I try to leave by 5 - 5:30. And I come home and have dinner with my husband basically, unfortunately, kind of watch the clock, okay, you've got 30 minutes of my time kind of thing. Then I would go to my office and work from 6:30 till sometimes 1:30 in the morning. The coursework took a lot of time. But that actually kept me moving through the process. Because there was a lot of writing, particularly with a PhD, you do a tremendous amount of research and writing. And I had 12 credits of statistics. So you know, that was a really fun time.

 

Dalia 

I can only imagine. What was your research focus?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

So my research focus was on RDs in school nutrition leadership. So one of the things that the Iowa State program did really well was they got you thinking day one about what you want it to do your research, because so many people get through their coursework in a PhD program, and they don't ever finish their research. So two things that really helped me be successful. I think with that process, one being in a program that was so strong academically, as Dr. Bob Bosselman was over the program, and he really revamped it to where it had a lot of solid content. And then the real key success to it was my professors. So Dr. Susan Arent accepted me. She only accepted three students a year. She's a registered dietitian, and has done a lot of research and then highly published, of course, and so she accepted me as one of her three PhD students. And she really helped me design my time in the sense of setting deadlines, to work through my research to work through the surveys that I had to develop and pilot test and then deliver and then even writing the actual dissertation, my dissertation is like 200 pages, it's pretty long. So she really forced me to say, okay, you're going to have chapter one finished, you know, she had me set my own calendar, obviously. And then I held to those deadlines. Just like I did my coursework, deadlines, and she was incredible supporting me in that because she knew that I was working full time. And so she made a solid effort to get things back to me, because she knew I spent my weekend doing research and writing. So I literally had no life for three years, I literally would come home, you know, spend a little time with my husband and work till late. And then I spent every minute on the weekend that I could doing work. Summers, we worked a reduced schedule. So that helped me because I had Friday, Saturday and Sunday that I could devote to that. So I really I mean, I just had to work through it.

 

Dalia 

Were you able to maintain your fitness? Did you feel like your health ever got abandoned during that time?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

That's an interesting question. Probably my sleep deprivation did for sure. I really tried to be very careful about what I ate. I didn't have time to exercise. So I would walk. But it was limited, because I just didn't have a lot of time. And so in that sense yes during those three years, I think my physical activity definitely was not to the level that it is now and had been prior to that. So even though I was very cautious about what I ate, I was way more sedentary, then I typically am and so in that sense, yes. When I finished I actually hired a personal trainer for a year and a half and worked on that again, and have maintained it since that. Yeah, it, you know, is a type of a marathon. Honestly, people equate doing a PhD to doing a marathon. It definitely was it just wasn't the right kind of physical marathon.

 

Dalia 

Yeah, I can imagine that sometimes you just have to prioritize and whatever is the main focus in your life has to just be the focus. And some things will have to wait for a while. Sometimes I see it's harder to focus or be creative or finish a project when you're sleep deprived, and you're not eating right. So I just wondered when you have to spend that much time working on a task that requires you just sit still just how do you really strike a balance.

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Yeah, and I would get out.  I didn't do long walks that I would get out. I live near a cul-de-sac. And I have two dogs. I wouldn't just sit at my desk for just hours after a little while I would get up and I go walk them around the cul-de-sac. So it wasn't like intensive cardio. But you know, I'm the type of person I can't just sit for hours and hours. So I did have some movement.  I didn't have a standing desk that might have helped or treadmill desk that could have helped.

 

Dalia 

I've gotten a standing desk at work now. And it's embarrassing how rarely I put myself in that position. So I'm sure your system is just as effective as anything.

 

You spent a lot of time in Carrollton City Schools over the time that you were there what did you see evolve? What major changes? Were there big shifts in the use of technology in the program?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

I would definitely say I think you know, a couple things came into play.  I went through the initial reviews where standardized recipes had to be implemented, because it was part of the nutrients standards. But in that time, everything was analyzed based on nutrient standards. And so thank goodness, I had that strong foundation with standardized recipes. And also worked with a staff initially, we really focused a lot on quality food. The nutritional content, obviously was a big part of that because of the analysis that was required. But also for me, serving quality food was the most important foundational piece of that the quality piece, obviously, I could play with the menus and the recipes and the foods we were using. But delivering it well and preparing it well, was really and truly my first main focus. So we spent a lot of time on that and even implemented batch cooking very early in the process. And then ironically, the HACCP plans came out. And that actually was a very easy process for us to implement because we'd implemented batch cooking so that helped us. We implemented batch cooking really for a quality food focus, that it provided that temperature control piece where food wasn't sitting for hours in the warmer and it was fresh. So you know, good practice, this helps cover a lot of aspects. At the time I came to Carrollton, we only had 3400 students. So when I left, it was like a little over 5300. So the system almost doubled while I was there. But saying that I didn't have a lot of staff. So wanting to manage things well we implemented all kinds of software. I actually went to a cloud based point of service, I don't know, eight, nine years ago, early into it. So I tended to always be an early adapter when it came to technology. I was one of the first districts probably that had the temperature monitoring systems on my walking coolers and freezers. Goodness, I've had that for probably 14, 15 years. And even doing district based analysis when I first came, they had standalone software at each school that was doing that. So we made it a district and then we went actually to a web based menu management system as well. We were early adapters, for scanned applications, we did online applications. So anywhere that I could implement software, to help pull some of those mundane responsibilities off of the managers, and bring it to a central office, I could manage it and my staff could better help the managers be able to really focused on running their staff and producing quality school meals. So yeah, I'm, I'm kind of a technology geek in that sense, I guess.

 

Dalia 

Okay, so that's why you're quick to adapt. Well, it just helps you make more data based decisions, if it's easier to collect the data and you have an aggregate you can actually look at so that makes sense. Now, when it comes to the quality of the food was learning the rules of procurement, a challenge at all ?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

It was different. I mean, we wanted competitive bids, when I worked for the company. Now we had our own warehouse, and we did procure produce locally. But other than that, you know, we had a corporate delivery. I learned inventory control. But I didn't have to worry about the procurement side of it there. When I was at the hospital, I did have to worry more about it. I always tried to get competitive pricing. We were part of a purchasing consortium, though. So, you know, again, it wasn't like the federal regulations that we have in school nutrition. So learning that process definitely was something that was new, I understood how the standards related and I think my education, as an undergraduate, and even, you know, a little bit probably, in my Masters, dealt with some of that. I definitely knew a little bit about writing specifications and those sorts of things. But it is a little different procuring under federal standards. So I think I learned a lot through that process. And it's something that I think has developed. While I've been in school nutrition, what it was 18 and a half years ago was still, wasn't near as evolved as what it is now.

 

Dalia 

How do you recommend that people, who are new or people established, how they should try and keep up with the changes, like in addition to their daily operations, how do they make sure they don't miss updates?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Well, you know, in Georgia, we're fairly fortunate, at least we try and then now that that's my world, we definitely share USDA updates all the time. So USDA, will send out memos and guidance on a regular basis. So keeping current with that is very, very critical. My understanding is every state kind of handles that a little differently. But in Georgia, we definitely try to share that with our local systems as quickly as we get the information. We're also fortunate, I think, in Georgia, I've always felt this way, the State Department provides a lot of training opportunities. And I personally looked for those training opportunities, I did training through the Institute of Child Nutrition, and even some other areas not always necessarily school nutrition related, but best practice related, that just helped me learn how to implement a better operation and how to better manage staff and do trainings and be more creative. And I'm just kind of one of those individuals, I'm not happy with the status quo. So looking for ways to improve and move ahead, I think has always been a standard for me.

 

Dalia 

Right, and like you just alluded to, you're moving into an exciting new role as the Georgia Department of Education School Nutrition Director. So I know like you said, every state does things a little bit differently, what is your vision for how you would like the state of Georgia to be in the next five years or so in comparison to maybe other states in school nutrition?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Sure. Well, Georgia, I'm extremely fortunate and honored to have the opportunity to be the state director. You know, there's a strong heritage in school nutrition, starting with Dr. Josephine Martin, who really laid an incredible plan, I think and vision in her tenure. And then, you know, Anette Bomar Hopgood definitely continued to move that bar ahead and establish a very strong program to continue that legacy. And then there's some other folks that were there, Gretchen Schultz, and Ruth Gordon had a small period of time. And then most recently, Nancy Rice having been the director of the last 11 years. You know, I think that's where that standard of training and support for the local districts has been evident. Even our credentialing, Georgia has really set the bar and my dissertation really focused on that, I looked at the southeast region, and looked at how dietetics relates to the practice of school nutrition management, and really found that in all my training as a dietitian in human resource management, financial management, the nutritional side of it, even the wellness application, and all, all of those things were foundational pieces of my training, that I think really laid a good educational foundation for me to be successful in this role. And so that was the focus of my research. And I am not saying that only RDs should be school nutrition directors, I think other folks come from other backgrounds, that they also bring knowledge. But I do think that dietetics is one application that does prepare people well. And so I think in saying that Georgia has done a really good job of focusing on the importance for qualified leadership. And that was where that credentialing program came up. Part of that framework is definitely focused on nutrition and human resource management, and financial management, all those factors are part of the things that that are tied to that credential. So I think that's where our programs have been very successful through the years. So taking on something that has such a strong foundation. And looking ahead five years, I think for me, what I hope we do is continue to provide that strong district support. We're looking at ways that we can do that we've got kind of where I was when I started in school nutrition, there was a lot of directors that were aging out and starting to retire. I think we're seeing that cycle develop again. So looking at succession planning, both for the ultimate leadership of our local districts, but also even our leadership and our schools and our frontline employees. I think we've got some challenges associated with our staffing, unemployment is very low right now and districts are struggling. So really exposing our Georgia students to the opportunities in school nutrition. They may want to be frontline employees just working in a school, they want to  move up to a management level, or they may ultimately want to be in a higher level leadership position in a district as a coordinator or director, nutrition specialist, depending on the size of the district and the opportunities there. So I think that's one of my goals. I think our school systems could help us and some of it could be through a culinary arts program, some of it could be just through a business or leadership focus to where this could be presented as an opportunity for them for the future. So I see that as one area that I would like to continue to develop for our local districts and in really developing a pipeline for employees at all levels. But obviously leadership, you know, being a top priority for us to maintain, definitely focusing on the importance of our credentialing, I think, again, that relates to how Georgia is so strong. So you know, I don't want to see us lose ground in that area, professional standards was something that they realize with the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, that was important to even set that baseline because a lot of districts didn't or a lot of states didn't even require a bachelor's degree. Having been in Georgia, as long as I was, I was kind of naive to that I didn't realize the variant levels of education that were set, you know, in other states. So I think you can kind of see some correlations for strength, district quality meals and finance, stability and all when you look at qualified leadership running those programs. So that's another aspect. For me immediately, I think communications is a big factor, aligning our goals in school nutrition with what the state superintendent chooses as his goals. That's where we've rolled out recently the new logo Fueling George's Future, and really thinking about how we promote our school meal program.

 

Another big piece of that is collaboration, you know, we've done some partnerships with the Department of Agriculture continuing to foster and develop that relationship, implementing more Georgia Grown products in our schools, I think schools have done a tremendous job on that, and just continuing to help systems through that procurement process, even looking at maybe some ways to support local districts, they with maybe doing some collaborative purchasing in different regions in the state, knowing the challenges that are associated with the documentation and the process that's required, hopefully helping, particularly smaller systems that maybe don't have as much experience with that, be able to get more competitive pricing and things in their areas, with the distributors that are servicing them, and making sure that they are getting distributors to service their needs. There are some parts of our state where that's even a challenge. So then that impacts district having the best pricing and that impacts that financial side. So I think that's, you know, that's another thing that I'd like to see us as a state department hopefully help. Something else that's been brought up to me, in some of the area meeting is the need for more financial training with our local directors. I was fortunate, I had a strong foundation coming from the commercial standpoint. I did understand the finances at least a little bit, I had to learn school nutrition, finances certainly. But I think that's vital for our local districts to be able to understand how to evaluate their monthly reports and make decisions quickly, not waiting till the end of the year to kind of see where they land, and to learn how to make adjustments and what adjustments are realistic to make controlling food costs, controlling labor costs, and increasing participation, you know, being creative in how they market their programs, and how we can support that from the state level.

 

Dalia 

Fantastic. The vision is for the state office to be a resource and a leader in a positive way. Some people seem to have a lot of anxiety around administrative reviews, and there seems to be a lot of fear there, like maybe not everyone totally understands that it is a partnership. No one's trying to catch you doing anything. Everyone is part of the same team.

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Yes. Well, for me, and I think that's where I view school nutrition, I just see us is having such a great opportunity with our children. And I think, you know, coming from that healthcare background, and seeing the impact of obesity, and how that adversely affects people's health and quality of life. I just see us having such a great opportunity. So, I like to look at the reviews, and I tried to this in Carrollton even though you know, it's natural to have some anxiety anytime you're evaluated. But if we're doing the right things, and if we're able to support districts, to be able to do the right things every day for children, then hopefully, the fear associated with those reviews can be minimized. So that that best practice is the day to day standard. And it's not something that's just done for the sake of a review, but we're really doing it for the sake of the child and the wellbeing of the whole child. And that supports their academic success. So to me, it's just a total tie in.  I think George's tried to do a lot of that. I think the state department has always wanted to help and support districts. I think some of you know, what's evolved is just the nature of the complexity of these reviews. If folks aren't as comfortable with some of the challenges they face day to day in their operations, then having that review,  I can see where it would be, it would be a little intimidating and stressful.

 

Dalia 

Right, but having every source there to help you get comfortable. So that, like you said, every day you're trying to be compliant and maintain the standards, because they're not arbitrary standards, they're there for the benefit of the student and the sustainability of the program as a whole. So I can really see the financials being a struggle for a lot of people just because I don't think that's a strong component in most people's undergrad programs, whether they're coming from nutrition, or unless you actually studied accounting, you probably are really week. When it comes to money management. So I can see it being helpful to have more training in that area.

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Yes. We're looking at that. The Institute of Child Nutrition has some really good training, and then, you know, just trying to understand what the routine support for that could be, is where I'm trying to, evaluate where we're at now. I do think it's something that will be a process for us to implement and hopefully develop that to where directors and staff feel more comfortable with that.

 

Dalia 

Well, I'm excited to have somebody who likes technology, and is not happy with the status quo at the wheel.  It’s all very exciting.  If there was one thing that you could communicate to everyone who works in school nutrition for them to have in their head in their hearts when they go to work every day. What would it be? What is it that you would like for all of us to understand about what we do every day?

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Well, I really do believe that we're feeding the future. And I think, you know, and I've shared this through different opportunities that I've had to be with folks, I think, you know, when we look at the challenges of our society, understanding how we can really change a child's palette to be more accepting and willing to try foods that they're probably not exposed to outside of the school setting, and how that can shape their well being for the future. Even related to cooking that for themselves and making good choices for themselves. I just feel like that is such an incredible opportunity that really could change the health landscape of our nation. We have an obesity issue. And if you talk to anybody in health care, they're going to affirm that my daughter's pharmacist, and she tells me all the time how patients that she sees in the hospital setting, the majority of them are in the hospital and very critical condition related to some type of obesity, you know, type of disease or condition that brought him to that level. So I just, I would like to do better for our children. So I think that's where I get up every day thinking, you know, that's my motivation to just see where I can help support everybody be successful in in presenting and providing the best we can for our kids.

 

Dalia 

Thank you so much for coming on.

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Absolutely. Well, thank you for the opportunity. I think school nutrition is the greatest place to work. Honestly, after working in a few different applications I think I've found the most rewarding. My passion, is feeding children. So if anybody's interested or wonders more about it, I would encourage them to reach out to a school nutrition professional in their area and see what opportunities exist, because it is definitely a rewarding place and you find people staying in the field until they retire because of that.

 

Dalia 

That really says something in a time where you're not seeing that anymore. It used to be kind of normal people would find a job and they just stay there. That really isn't a thing anymore. Even when people maybe move from one opportunity to another in school nutrition, you see people are staying in school nutrition. There's a lot of job satisfaction here. I definitely don't want to do anything else. I feel like I get to use every bit of my training at my current job, which is what I had hoped to do. I didn't think I would find something that really touched on everything, but I have.  This is an amazing, welcoming community of professionals as well. In other parts of dietetics people can be kind of caddy or maybe that's not the right word. They're not always super welcoming

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

Sure, a little more territorial, maybe?

 

Dalia 

Yes and competitive, not collaborative. Here you find that people want to share their resources, they want to share knowledge. The only obstacle I really see to that is lack of time, because it is a hectic field to be in. But everybody wants to see everyone succeed. And I just don't think there are a lot of places like that, anymore or I don't know if they're ever were so I don't want to go anyplace else.

 

Dr. Linette Dodson 

I know, it is great. I agree totally.

 

Dalia 

I really appreciate Dr. Dodson coming on this week and sharing her journey into school nutrition with us and some insights and some career advice. It is not uncommon at all to come in contact with people in leadership positions in school nutrition, that are willing to take the time to share guidance and advice with people who are maybe a little earlier on in their career path that just a sign to me that we're all in the right place. And as usual, don't worry if you didn't get a chance to take any notes just visit the website www.schoolnutritiondietitian.com and from there sign up for the email list and get access to summary sheets for the episode every single week.