Why Does Tracking Data Matter for Nutrition Service Programs?


As part of our commitment to provide school district administrators with resources and guidance on operations performance management in non-academic contexts we regularly publish blogs featuring guest writers. This month, we are honored to feature Jean Ronnei, SNS, a Senior Consultant at ProTeam Foodservice Advisors and Former Chief Operations Officer at St. Paul Public Schools with guidance on why Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) matter for school food services departments.

As a former Chief Operations Officer (COO), I can attest to how easy it is to take the “no news is good news” stance with nutrition services (NS) as late buses, snow emergencies, power outages, board meeting preparation and other issues command constant attention. However, I am fortunate that I learned the importance of data-driven decision making early in my career as a NS director and understand the power of good-news stories mined from NS data.

As NS director I learned quickly how unique our program was within the district. I needed tools to track daily and monthly costs, revenue and participation in an organizational structure that functions with an annual budget. The reality is that labor agreements, benefit changes, a new milk contract, using brown box commodities and/or NOI, and even a new cafeteria manager or principal can quickly give rise to shifts in the financial well-being of an individual cafeteria or the entire program. Data quickly captured the picture of what was happening in my program and helped me to tell the story to critical partners within the school district.

Some of the lessons learned over time were painful! Years of comparing month-to-month data brought this lesson home: If my program wasn’t well into the black midway through the school year, I could expect to have a tough year-end.  I learned other lessons through data review as well:

  • Just because a menu item is a hit with kids and participation is high, doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will positively contribute to the bottom line.
  • Lentil Meatless Loaf? Yes, it happened. And data told the story of its negative impact, which allowed me to make significant changes in how we decided what was going on the menu. 
  • A comprehensive menu planning process that involves stakeholders and includes factors such as access to commodities, student preferences, piloting new menu items, thorough product evaluation and use of cycle menus leads to fewer knee-jerk decisions. 

As a Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) member I had the opportunity to help design Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for NS programs as part of a pilot project. The CGCS developed 97 metrics for benchmarking district performance against other CGCS districts. The food service metrics that I helped design were indicators that I put into use at my district, which routinely helped me:

  • Manage programs
  • Inform the Board and Superintendent with Power Indicator KPIs
  • Share the Essential Few with my COO
  • Focus on Key Indicators with the NS team to dissect root causes of issues and cheer successes

To learn more about Power Indicators, Essential Few, and Key Indicators, download the CGCS Benchmark report here

I encourage you to work with your NS director to gather the data needed to track performance. Both of you will sleep better and be able to focus on all the other challenges and opportunities you face.

Are you a Cool School Cafe Points member? Find out how you can use your points to subscribe to ActPoint KPI Food Services for over 97 food services metrics. 

Jean Ronnei, former Chief Operations Officer, Saint Paul Public Schools. Ms. Ronnei is the past President of the National School Nutrition Association. She started her career in the food service department as the director and now works as a senior consultant with ProTeam Foodservice Advisors.

About The Author

Phillip leads the ActPoint KPI team and leverages his extensive software and education industry experience to build innovative solutions for many of TransACT's educational industry customers and partners. Phillip also leads the ActPoint KPI and Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) partnership to enable school business and operations leaders to track and compare non-academic metrics with the goal of continuous improvement. Since its launch, ActPointKPI has supported 100s of school business leaders nationwide in their quest to reduce costs and drive resources to where they are needed most: the classroom.