NCCTC will adjust school lunch menu
COAL TOWNSHIP - Adjustments will be made to the lunch menu at Northumberland County Career and Technology Center, according to the school's director.
James Monaghan said salads and wraps will be added to the menu, as will a variety of fruit juices and more distinct alternatives to entrees.
"It's difficult when you're a satellite cafeteria. I want to replicate Mount Carmel Area's, Shamokin's and Line Mountain's offerings as much as possible," he said. "We even addressed those kids who are vegetarians."
The additions come in light of student concerns over food quality, variety and portion size. Those concerns were expressed in a letter signed by "Northumberland County Student Body" and accompanied by a 70-signature petition which includes 9 signatures from school staff members.
That lead to a meeting Monday of four students representing the student body, Monaghan, Mindy Lagerman, food service director at Shamokin Area School District, Vicky Starr, a regional manager of Nutrition Inc., a food service company that prepares student lunches, and the school's two lunch servers.
Monaghan said national nutrition guidelines were explained to the students as to what can and cannot appear on a lunch tray, and how much food can be served.
The students lead the conversation, Monaghan said, and were "cordial" and "very helpful and mature in their delivery."
Another meeting will follow in two weeks to address any outstanding concerns. Monaghan said he'd like to meet monthly after that for a roundtable discussion with the student representatives.
Faith Neiter, a senior at the technology center from Shamokin Area, said the student representatives were happy with the meeting's outcome.
"They said they're going to fix things," she said. "They listened to us. ... We'll see how it goes."
A total of 113 students from Line Mountain, Mount Carmel Area and Shamokin Area School District attend Northumberland County Career and Technology Center, 65 of whom are full-time and eat lunch at the Coal Township facility.
Students pick their lunches daily. Orders are sent to Shamokin Area Middle-High School where food is prepared by the staff of Nutrition Inc., a food service company that is contracted with Shamokin Area School District. They are then delivered to the nearby technology center.
This is the first year lunch is being held at the technology center, Monaghan said previously. In the past, students ate lunch at their home schools either before or after attending class at the technology center.
Ron McElwee is a board director both at Shamokin Area and the technology center. He offered his support to the students and his name was included in the letter.
"I appreciate the fact that (Monaghan) and the students are working on this collectively. If there's no resolution to this issue in less than two weeks, something has to be done," McElwee said, adding that students with special diets, such as those on a soft food diet, must have their needs met.
The topic resurfaced during Tuesday's meeting of the Shamokin Area School Board, during which board directors grilled both Lagerman and Starr on the students' allegations.
A parent was also critical of Nutrition Inc.
Tammy Sessions said her special-needs son is a Life Skills student at the technology center. His nursing aides have told her that his soft food diet is not being met.
She had a physician write a note for the school last week to the effect that soft foods are a necessity, but even on Monday he was receiving hard vegetables that he cannot eat.
"He will choke," she said if he attempts to eat items like apples and celery.
Sessions backed up the students' claims. She said she has heard from her son's aides and from others that the technology center has run out of food, and that students are simply not getting enough to eat.
"As soon as he gets home he signs to me that he wants to eat," she said.
Director Ron McElwee said it's happened at the Shamokin Area Elementary, and Director Tracey Witmer said it's also happened at the elementary annex.
The food service was run much better when it was in district hands, Sessions said. Both she and Neiter's father, Steve Whitman, were critical of Nutrition Inc.'s operation.
"I just ask you pleas consider who you have feeding our children," Sessions said.
Director Ed Griffiths said the district school board also dropped the ball, blaming some of the issues on the technology center having switched to a full day this school year. He said the cafeteria issue wasn't vetted enough prior to the switch.
McElwee said such issues should have been resolved within the first month, and Director Brian Persing, board president, said it "blows my mind" this was going on for five months and it appears no one was fully aware of the issues raised by the students.
Director Charles Shuey was among the four directors who voted last summer against handing over full control of food services to Nutrition Inc. He was especially critical of the company, saying if their ability to run a cafeteria was as professional as the "1-inch thick" binder presented to the board for its proposal was, these issues wouldn't exist.
"You people are a professional food service company. You're expected to address this issue," he said. "It calls into question whether or not you're equipped to handle this."
Griffiths said a full-service cafeteria should be up and running at Northumberland County Career and Technology Center if it going to be a full-day operation.
McElwee said he'd like to see that happen. Kitchen equipment is already at the school and there is a culinary curriculum there. However, he said funding issues present challenges of staffing the kitchen, and also noted that prior to this school year, enrollment at the technology center was low.
Lagerman and Starr reviewed the results of their Tuesday morning meeting with the students and Monaghan. They also vowed to work with Sessions to ensure her son gets the food he needs, and that that is also the case for other special needs students.
Director Bernie Sosnoskie said the elementary renovations have progressed, and that the elementary cafeteria will reopen in its designated place Tuesday.
He added that the administrative offices are finished and that staff have returned to that area.
Both the administrative offices and cafeteria were temporarily housed inside the elementary gym.