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Executive Chef’s $84K Mission: Serving Tasty, Unfrozen Fresno School Lunches



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The Fresno Unified School Board will take a step closer to what trustees hope will be a solution to the nagging problem of crappy school lunches. On Wednesday night’s agenda is the adoption of an executive chef job description and salary.

Check out my other School Zone columns at Nancy Price’s School Zone Facebook page.

In addition to collaborating with the district’s nutritionist to develop menus and design recipes that are pleasing to pupils — and that will meet all the necessary low-salt, low-sugar, etc. requirements set by the federal government, which bankrolls Fresno’s school meals program — the new executive chef will be responsible for “culinary, health, and safety training of food service assistants, and ensuring consistency and quality assurance through training and mentoring of the Food Services staff assigned to school sites.”

In other words, making sure that the meals that are mass-produced and frozen at the district’s Nutrition Services center on North Brawley Avenue are properly warmed before being handed out to school kids, one of the issues that parents have brought to the attention of the School Board.

Why have frozen meals been handed out to kids? No one seems to have an answer to that, but maybe the new executive chef — whose proposed annual salary will be more than $84,000, and that doesn’t include benefits — will be able to find an answer to that conundrum.

Fresno Unified isn’t the first school district to bring an executive chief on board. Tiny Albany Unified School District in the East Bay and medium-sized Santa Ana Unified in the LA area have executive or certified chefs on staff.

Having chefs create school menus and cook meals at school is de rigueur in France, where documentary filmmaker Michael Moore discovered that sometimes the best gourmet meals in town are the school lunches.

Also in School Zone: 

  • Fresno magnet school students are getting to school on time now.
  • This year’s Fresno County Academic Decathlon champion looks mighty familiar.
  • These kids now have a garden as an outdoor classroom.

No More Tardies with New Fresno Bus Schedules

Fresno Unified students may no longer be able to blame buses if they are tardy to their classes, thanks to a newly implemented schedule that took effect Monday.

Computech parent Chris Dowdy, who banded together with other parents last month to put a spotlight on chronically late-arriving buses, told School Zone on Tuesday that 31 students missed their bus on Monday, but zero were late on Tuesday.

About 30 students were nearly late on Monday because of an issue at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology unrelated to the new scheduling, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry said.

“This bus was on the way to Computech and CART is one of the stops on the way. The gate at CART was malfunctioning and could not open to let the bus in. With that delay, the bus arrived at Computech at 8:27 a.m. and the first class starts at 8:33 a.m.,” she said in an email.

Dowdy and other parents went public last month with their concerns that students were missing 20 to 40 minutes of instruction time daily because of late-arriving buses. Fresno Unified blamed a combination of factors for the late buses, including the state-mandated later start times for middle and high schools, an upheaval in management in the Transportation Department, and the union contract that limited route changes. However, officials with the bus drivers’ union said the district always had the ability to amend routes under the contract rules.

Although the tardy bus arrivals were a problem that Computech Middle School, a magnet school in southwest Fresno, was reportedly documenting since the start of the school year, the district’s solution (new schedules, new routes) was not implemented until this month after parents went public with the problem. Parents said they would have spoken out earlier, but they only learned in December right before the holidays that the problem was affecting hundreds of students and not just their own kiddos.

University High Keeps Academic Decathlon Trophy

In what seems like an annual tradition at least in recent years, the University High School Academic Decathlon team claimed the top prize last weekend in the Fresno County contest.

The charter school’s team posted a decisive win of 43,438.4 points, easily beating second-place Hallmark Academy (also a charter school) and third-place Clovis North. Hallmark’s team scored 35,893.7 points, while Clovis North’s team scored 34,847.2 points.

Hallmark’s second-place finish was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. The online school for homeschooled students competed as a Division 3 (smallest) school, while University High and Clovis North were among the larger Division 1 schools. And Hallmark’s students were relative rookies — the last time the school competed was in 2011.

University High, which also has won the National Academic Decathlon small schools championship in multiple years, will compete in the state Decathlon March 24-26 in Santa Clara.

The local decathlon is not just about the glory. Students also were competing for a share of scholarships totaling $8,000.

And given the state of American politics these days, this year’s theme of “The American Revolution” seems somewhat apropos.

How Does Their Garden Grow?

Kids at the Golden Charter Academy now have a new classroom — and also a place to grow some yummy produce.

On Friday the school, which was founded by former NFL player Robert Golden, unveiled the George Washington Carver Community Garden in a ceremony that attracted a few local bigwigs, including Mayor Jerry Dyer and Deputy Mayor Matthew Grundy.

The garden, funded by a Cal EPA Urban Garden grant secured through a partnership with the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, will provide a “creative and calming space” for students and staff, in addition to a place where students can learn about where our veggies come from and what they taste like fresh out of the garden.

The garden’s namesake, George Washington Carver, was born into slavery and had to walk 10 miles as a youngster to attend a school for Black students. He would become a prominent agricultural scientist whose work included developing methods to prevent soil depletion and finding alternatives to planting cotton, including peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Golden Charter Academy students work in the new George Washington Carver Community Garden. (Photo/Golden Charter Academy)

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email