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Professional Standards

Staff development is an essential component of overall meal program success. Professional Standards introduced through the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) support this vision.

Professional Standards

Staff development is an essential component of overall meal program success. Professional Standards introduced through the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) support this vision.

The USDA rule for Professional Standards for school nutrition professionals went into effect in 2015. A summary of the rule can be found here. To write this ruling the USDA performed extensive surveys to determine what standards were being used by districts across the country. They found a wide range in the experience and skill sets hired, regardless of district size. For example, the “director” position is not defined consistently across the industry, as requirements for the job are largely influenced by the size of the district and its approach to staffing. In setting out “minimum” standards, the USDA Professional Standards guidelines define “minimum” standards and base their definitions on district size, recognizing that the responsibility and complexity of the system increases with the student population.

They created three categories based on the student enrollment in a given district:

  • Student enrollment of 2,499 or fewer
  • Between 2,500 and 9,999 students
  • Student enrollment of 10,000 or more

For each district size group the USDA developed minimum standards for hiring the director position ranging from specific education benchmarks to combinations of education and field experience. We recommend that relevant experience in the field should always be included in leadership positions, regardless of educational areas of concentration like food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts or business. Management experience to the scale of the district size and budget scope is preferred over the more abstract experience of majoring in a specific related area. School districts may exceed the minimum standards and we find that in larger systems, director level positions will, for the most part, recognize educational degrees and have minimum years in the field to be considered for hire.

The USDA has created a guide to help school districts understand the requirements of the new standards with regard to hiring and training. It includes information on:

  • Training standards for each job category
  • Training topics and their codes
  • Requirements for tracking trainings
  • Where to find trainings
  • Creating your own trainings

The USDA has created a guide to help school districts understand the requirements of the new standards with regard to hiring and training. It includes information on:

  • Training standards for each job category
  • Training topics and their codes
  • Requirements for tracking trainings
  • Where to find trainings
  • Creating your own trainings
Most state offices offer a variety of trainings, so we advise checking with your state office first when looking for opportunities in your region.
Most state offices offer a variety of trainings, so we advise checking with your state office first when looking for opportunities in your region.

One of the benefits of the Professional Standards is the justification for food services staff development. Almost every district has “professional development days” in their calendar for teachers and administrators but all too often food services teams are presumed to be off on those days because students are not present.

The expected hours of training outlined by the USDA is a minimum guide. In districts that are shifting to more complex operations, developing an outline of trainings for the various areas you are working on is useful. Some of the development will be front loaded and require some one-time costs and then some ongoing refreshers or recertification. Food Safety and Sanitation training and implementing Back-Office software fall into that category. Remember to include professional development in your personnel budget.

Identifying the type of training you want to provide, and which employee groups are required will allow you to figure out how many hours and what the professional development budget should be. The USDA has developed a searchable database for districts to find free or low cost training resources organized in the four areas of; nutrition, operations, administration and communications/marketing. Your state office of child nutrition is also a resource for training opportunities to meet your needs.

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