Nick Saccaro is the President of Quest Food Management Services, providing onsite food and hospitality services to K-12 schools and other organizations throughout the Midwest. A proven innovator and leader in the industry, Nick has 15+ years generating rapid, sustained growth and high-performing teams. Prior to his food service industry roles, Nick worked for Feeding America for nearly a decade.

Show Highlights

Leadership defining moment at a community garden.

Unique approach to recognizing staff members and building relationships

Leveraging food service to connect classroom learning with real-world experiences

Ways to let student voices shape educational experience.

Evolution of students’ preferences towards customized and authentic food experiences.

Implementing the 15 commitments of conscious leadership.

Tips to speak with empathy and without argumentation is key to valuing everyone at your school.

Dignity is the key for leaders in learning communities.

“A more almost perfect representation of what the dignity of work is supposed to mean to a person, even if it’s not a job that the rest of society might find as glamorous or valuable. As a school leader or a building leader, there are so many people in these positions in your buildings. And while you may not be able to change the economics of what their lives look like, you may not be able to change the pay scales and the pay grades and the benefits and the pensions and all those kinds of things that those individuals have access to. You certainly can impact the way it feels for them to be at work.”
- Nick Saccaro

Dr Chris Jones

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Read the Transcript here.

Quest Food Management Services – Behind the Scenes

Thanks for hitting play. If you love exploring how to do school differently so you can make a legendary impact on your campus, then you are in the right place. I’m Danny Bauer, and this is the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast, the original Ruckus Maker podcast for visionary leaders, innovators, and rebels in education. Thanks to Ruckus Makers like you, the better leaders better Schools show ranks in the top 0.5% of over 3 million worldwide podcasts. Thanks again. I really appreciate you listening to today’s show. I speak with Nick Saccaro over at Quest Food Management services and you should check out quest food. They really do incredible work bringing actual real food and healthy options to our schools. A pondering question for Ruckus Makers. Would you serve the school lunch to your own kids that you serve your students?

And in today’s podcast, there’s a lot to like. We’ll talk about the importance of valuing all people in your school focus groups and how student voices can shape their educational experience. But we start off with a story that brings us to a moment that was a leadership defining moment for Nick. And in this story, he’s not even the protagonist. He actually has a very humbling moment. And so I’ll just have you sit and think for a second. What was that leadership defining moment for you? And you’re going to love Nick’s when we share it at the top of this conversation. We’ll be right back after a few short messages from our show sponsors. Hey Ruckus Maker, I’ll make this quick. If you’re listening to this message right now, you’re missing out.

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When you work with quest food management services, you’re going to feel good about the food you serve your students. That’s because the food is real and it’s made from scratch and locally sourced. Learn more about Quest food management [email protected] or follow Questfood on social media. That’s questfms.com dot. All right, and welcome to the show. Nick Ceccaro.

Thank you. Excited to be here.

Let’s start with feeding America. Right. In that story, and I know you were considering, like, how do I make an impact? How do I prove people wrong? Because you were younger as a leader, I think at this time, and there’s a moment I want you to bring us to in a community garden. And you meet Gertrude. But she kind of scolds you a bit, but let me hear that story.

Just a quick backstory. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have interned for a feeding America affiliate in Missouri where I was going to college for my undergrad and just loved it. I fell in love with the work. It makes so much sense. You’re taking food that manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers can’t use, and you’re finding a home for it and making sure that it goes to good use. At most feeding America affiliates, the work that we do is serving food pantries, soup kitchens and meal centers. It’s more of a distribution center. But at the food bank that I was running, we also happened to have a community garden. And I was hired following my internship. A couple of years had passed as the executive director of this feeding America affiliate at 24 years old. And my ego about taking a leadership role in an organization that I had such high regard for, I think sort of got in the way of me understanding what leadership was about and where my priorities were. And so I was so focused on making an impact and proving to the board, to the staff, to the community that I belonged in that role. And yeah, we happen to have a community garden, some of the recipients of food that would normally go to the soup kitchens or food pantries could actually come on site and manage their own little plot of a garden. One day, not long after I started again, 24 years old, a couple of months after I started, someone came into my office and they said, there’s an unruly client out at the gardens causing all sorts of trouble.

She’s taking food and tools from other people’s gardens. She’s throwing a fit. I need you to come deal with this. I go marching out to the garden, and there stands this woman who, I don’t know her exact age, but I would guess she was probably at least late seventies, if not early eighties. And I said, excuse me, miss, and she turned around and looked at me, and it was like she was staring a hole through my brain. She had the fiercest look on her face. And I remember, like, I literally, viscerally remember my knees buckling a little bit, just, she was an intimidating presence. And I summoned up the courage that I had to face this woman and said excuse me, miss, I’m not sure what the problem is, but it seems like you’ve upset some of the other clients here and some of our staff. And before I could get another word in edgewise, she just launched into a tirade about how the food bank doesn’t need an accountant. I don’t even know what that meant at the time to run the food bank, that I’m a young kid, I don’t know what I’m doing. The place is going to fall apart because of me, et cetera. And we sort of concluded that conversation with me saying Gertrude, if you can’t show some respect to the other clients and to our team and to the facility here, you’re not welcome back. And that was sort of the end of that conversation. I was shaken, but that was kind of the end of that conversation. And it was not more than a week later, someone else came into my office again and said, Gertrude’s back. This time it’s worse. You have to go talk to her. So this time I’m channeling, I think, my fear into anger. I want to make a point. I am the executive director of this food bank, and we are not going to have people treated this way. That’s what’s running through my head. I went out to the community garden, and I said, gertrude. I didn’t even say, excuse me, miss or ma’am. I just sort of barked out her name. And she turned around and I said some to the effect of, like, this is absurd. This is ridiculous.

We can’t have this kind of behavior, et cetera. And then one of the most profound moments in my life about leadership and service to others unfolded. She turned around and she pointed her finger. I mean, it was probably an inch or two from my face. And she proceeded to tell me that she was a jewish immigrant who left Germany and came to the United States right at sort of the cusp of World War Two, really starting. She had then actually joined the United States army as a nurse and had served the US army for I don’t remember exactly how long ago or how long it was. This was a long time ago, but for quite some time. And then had served the community where she was living in and where the food bank was as a nurse at the hospital for. For decades. And I do remember her saying specifically something very similar to, I left my country and came here and served this country for decades, and now I can’t afford to put food on the table. I have never been more, like, humbled and candidly humiliated, in some ways justifiably, about my own ego, putting me in a spot where I wasn’t even willing to be inquisitive about what she was experiencing.

And as she shared with me that she had served our country for decades and that now here, she was not able to put food on the table for herself, about how hard she had worked, how she had tried to do the right thing, how she had given her life in the service of other people, and now realizing how incredibly embarrassing and in some ways, like, humiliating for her it was to have to rely on a food bank for her own food, instead of being able to provide for herself, suddenly just provided me with a significantly, I think, deeper and richer understanding of not just what she was going through, but what so many other people who were visiting, whether it was our community garden or the soup kitchens or food pantries that we served or whatever the case might be, what they were going through.

And I realized not at that moment. It took me some time to get there, but I realized that my job as a leader was not about me, was not about my agenda, was not about proving people wrong. My job as a leader was about serving the people that depended on me and on our organization to make good decisions on their behalf, to treat them with dignity, to treat them with respect. And I think from a human standpoint, to be more willing as not just a leader, but as a human being, to be more inquisitive and curious and less judgmental, more empathetic about just the individual stories that people have in their lives. As difficult as that experience was for Gertrude, and I’m sure it was very difficult, it was probably the best lesson in leadership that she gave me that I have ever had in my entire life. And having worked with feeding America and having learned that lesson with Gertrude, and now having worked in food service management for so long, where we have so many hourly team members sort of living paycheck to paycheck, I absolutely have carried that lesson and those thoughts forward in all of the leadership work that I have done since then. And I will never forget that woman, ever.

It’s a powerful story, and I appreciate you sharing it. There’s a lot of applications, and we’ll get to some of those in a bit. For the Ruckus Maker listening, something I want to point out, it’s like, it’s so easy to tell stories about people. In this case, a food bank in a community garden and why somebody was there and what they were up to, or if they were causing a commotion why. What was behind all that? And especially in today’s very fast paced culture with goldfish like attention spans, jumping to conclusions is extremely problematic, and we need to slow things down, get curious. They ask questions, figure out why. It’s such a great leadership lesson.

Like, how would you have replayed it if you could do it over again?

That’s such a great question. You made the comment about being curious. We do a lot of work at our organization here at Quest with the 15 commitments of conscious leadership. And one of the one of the first, actually, It’s the very first commitment of conscious leadership, is taking our 100% responsibility, no more, no less, but taking our 100% responsibility. And one of the other really important tenets of this work is sort of this thought of, are you speaking unarguably? Are you sort of speaking your opinion as fact? Are you married to being right? Are you committed to being right? Or can you leave space, as you just said, to be curious? I really wish what I would have been able to do with Gertrude would have been to show some vulnerability and some responsibilities.

What my 100% responsibility was, at least in my head, with her was to hopefully sort of diffuse some of the tension in the situation and allow both of us to get a little more curious. And so, in my mind, what that looks like is instead of talking to her in front of everybody else, as I did, because I was trying to make a point and show my authority as the executive director of the organization, very misguided. I wish that I had pulled her aside and said, hey, Gertrude, I got to be really honest with you. I’m really uncomfortable with what’s going on here, both for our clients and for our organization, but also for myself. I feel a little unsettled about how to best handle this, and I’m not sure where this is all coming from.

And I wonder if you might be willing to tell me a bit more about what your experience has been like here today that has gotten you to this point. And I wonder if that might have opened up some doors for me to have a different kind of conversation with Gertrude, to maybe understand, maybe even what were doing as an organization and how we had that whole system set up of the community garden to maybe put her in a spot where she felt like she had to sort of lash out the way she did. But that lack of taking my own responsibility that needs to be right and showing absolutely no curiosity whatsoever. Absolutely no curiosity. Are things exactly as you just said, that if I had the chance to do it all over again, I think today, I would like to think that’s how I would handle that conversation. At 24 years old, I was not equipped with those tools, and I wish I was. I can’t imagine that. I cannot imagine having that conversation with me at that time. If I’m in her shoes, what’s running through my head is probably, here’s a 24 year old kid who probably has never and probably will never show the level of commitment and service to others that I have, and has never escaped the kind of persecution that I have. I can’t imagine how tough that conversation was for her. And I didn’t do her a whole lot of favors by how I approached it.

I sure wish I had been more responsible, more curious, and shown her a lot more kindness.

Well just to honor you. I mean, obviously, 24, like, as I’ve aged, I’m 45 right now. I look at kids in college or just out of college, so 24.They look like children to me now. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe they’re, like, adults. They totally are. But they look like little kids and it’s just wild. I think back of how much I knew or thought I knew at that age. And we learn. We learn through life. And so what I want to honor is that you actually learned from this experience. It’d be very easy to take it personally and get defensive.

And there’s a lot of people my age and older who still do, right, and haven’t figured it out, let me figure ask about this person’s story or show a little bit of vulnerability and that kind of thing. I appreciate you unpacking it and even giving us a practical how you might have phrased it. And I who knows how it would have played out. But I can’t help but think that Gertrude would have felt a little more disarmed and that the environment was a bit safer if you had approached it that way. So I just want to highlight that. And now to for an application for Ruckus Makers leading schools.

You know, I’m wondering how this experience and the change in perspective you had how does that then apply to folks you work with in the cafeteria, those and for our principals listening that our bus drivers, our custodians and so on what wisdom would you have to share with those Ruckus Makers?

I love the question. I am so incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to work with feeding America before I got into food service management work. I did not work in any kind of service job or hospitality or waiting tables or anything like that. Growing up, I worked in some retail environments and things of that nature, but I can’t imagine not having that experience and being in this line of work. I’m really passionate about two things in the work that we do at quest. One, I think it’s probably an obvious thing that people would jump to, and that is trying to do everything we can to make sure that students have access to high quality, safe, healthy food. But the other part of it is, for me, and in some ways, maybe even a bigger passion, is providing an environment. Look, like we.

The economics of the food service environment, the economics of education environments are tough. They’re not placed that are ever working in either high margins or have a lot of extra money left over when years come up, it’s tough. But the environment that we create for our team members is something we absolutely have control over. The way that we show and respect and value the dignity of the human being and the dignity of the work that our team members do is so important to me. It’s so important to me. It is like, without question, the characteristic that we most look for in leaders and evaluate most critically in our leaders and managers. And if I’m a building administrator or a school administrator, and I think about what that means for me, to your point, we’ve got the food service staff. We’ve got the janitors, we’ve got paraprofessionals, we have AIDS. We’ve got bus drivers. We’ve got maintenance workers. We have all kinds of folks who society, unfortunately, whether it’s because of the income they make or the education they may not have, or maybe because they are a person of color, or maybe because they don’t speak English as their first language, in a lot of ways, I think our society in some ways sort of deems those folks in those positions as almost like cogs in a wheel or, I don’t know, replaceable, for lack of a better word. But, man, they’re human beings. They’re people. They have stories like Gertrude does. They have families. They have feelings. They have needs, they have wants. They have dreams.

We’ve got a gentleman that works at one of our locations who has worked in the dishroom for almost 30 years. He’s been in the dishroom for almost 30 years. If the listeners have never spent time in a dishroom, it is hot, it’s wet, it’s not safe, it’s dirty. Typically leave there not smelling all that great and wet from both the steam and the water of washing the dishes, but also the stuff that you’ve spilled upon yourself. It’s not an easy place to be. And this guy Larry, to one of our schools in Indiana, has been with us for nearly 30 years. And when I think about the dignity that comes to human beings through the work they do, if the work is meaningful to them, I can’t think of any more. How do I want to say this? A more almost perfect representation of what the dignity of work is supposed to mean to a person, even if it’s not a job that the rest of society might find as glamorous or valuable. So as a as a school leader or a building leader, there are so many people in these positions in your buildings. And while you may not be able to change the economics of what their lives look like, you may not be able to change the pay scales and the pay grades and the benefits and the pensions and all those kinds of things that those individuals have access to. You certainly can impact the way it feels for them to be at work. We have roughly 1700 employees at Quest. About 1650 of them work in schools.

And so while their paycheck is signed by Quest, the reason they especially are non exempt, hourly team members tend to stay is because of the environment at the schools they’re in. It’s not really because of the quest. A lot of times, if a school transitions from Aramark to quest or whoever the case might be, the team members want to stay there because they feel like they’re a part of the community. And so for those leaders, I think making the time to know their names, to greet them, to thank them, to show some small parts of appreciation, maybe even to learn a little bit about how to speak in some of their, even just some simple greetings in their native language, I think can just go an enormous distance for showing people that they’re valued as human beings. And the dignity and the work they do and the dignity that they deserve as human beings are important to all of us as leaders.

Yeah, that dignity piece is huge. Last school I was in before pursuing this dream full time was a middle school in Houston. And I couldn’t believe it because I started these regular meetings with the front office staff, the custodians, the folks in the cafeteria, and these groups said I was like, so what did you use to talk to the principal about? My assumption was they met, and I was shocked because what they told me is, oh, we never met with the principal. Wow, we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. And I’m like, oh, my gosh, what a missed opportunity. Like, one, these are people contributing right in the dignity piece and all that you’ve already so eloquently covered. But then I’m thinking they play a role in the school. They impact kids in a way.

It might not be instructionally in a classical, traditional sense, but they’re teaching something and they’re interacting in some kind of way. And so I wanted to leverage, well, why are you here? Because, to your point, maybe it’s not because they enjoy working with class. They enjoyed working with the school community. And it has nothing to do with your organization. It’s just like the connection, being around kids and teachers and that kind of thing. I wanted to find out, what’s your dream for this school? How can you help us live out the mission? The values? They never had discussions like that, but you should have seen what they, how they showed up every single day. How that was elevated just because I showed I cared and that they mattered to the school. And it’s so, again, just for the Ruckus Maker listening, that it could be a missed opportunity for you. And just think about your faculty meetings. We already know the teachers are going to be there, probably counselors all the administrators. Well, what about the cafeteria? What about security? What about the front office? What about bus drivers? So there’s a really great opportunity there and appreciate you sharing that. So go ahead. It looks like you ought to answer.

I love that. I love the idea of what’s your dream for. I love that. What’s your dream for the school? And I just really quickly wanted to piggyback on. I’ve got a 15 year old at home. And as I think back about his journey through elementary school, middle school and now into high school, at least half of the time, if not more, my own personal experience that he is, he has shared with me someone who has made an impact on his day at school, who’s not a friend, who’s an adult. It’s a bus driver. It’s a custodian. It’s someone working in the lunchroom. It’s someone that takes, that almost sort of takes him by surprise. Meaning, like, he doesn’t have regular interaction with that person like he would a teacher. That he finds some sort of a connection with and learns a cool story about that person’s past and how they got there and why they work there. And the thing I’ve loved about that for my own son is without, like, shoving it down his throat, he’s seeing at a young age that all of these individuals are people, too. They’re just human beings doing their best. I think that modeling for all of us as leaders and as adults not only benefits the team members that we’re talking about that are working in our schools or in our organizations. But I also think it is an amazing lesson and foundation to set for the kids, for the students that are there as well.

I won’t get into it now. I’ve talked on the show before about a unique way of doing a staff member of the month, and from a high level, everybody’s included and everybody can vote. The reason I’m bringing that into our conversation is the security team often receives the most nominations from kids because of their ability to build relationships and that kind of thing. Again, another group, if your school has security that might be overlooked and it’s just, again, a missed opportunity. We’re going to pause here just for a few seconds to get some messages in from our sponsors. And when we return, I want to get into more of what you do the business side, the food side of your work, why it matters to Ruckus Makers.

And you need to keep listening because how does food help teach concepts in school? Which I think is an interesting thing for us to discuss as well. Something that drove me nuts as a Ruckus Maker was hearing teachers say, I taught it and the students should have learned it, but really, some teachers just don’t know how to reteach so that all kids get it. That’s where IXL comes in. IXl’s diagnostic automatically identifies knowledge gaps for teachers and provides them with a personalized growth plan for each individual student. Teachers can step into the classroom every day knowing what their students know and what they don’t. IXL’s adaptive platform makes differentiating instruction easy. As students learn, IxL adjusts to the right level of difficulty for each individual. Close knowledge gaps and accelerate learning with IXL. Get started [email protected]/Leadership that’s ixl.com/leaders.

In post pandemic classrooms, student talk is crucial. And when classrooms come alive with conversation, teachers and students both thrive. TeachFX helps teachers make it happen. The TeachFX instructional coaching app provides insights into student talk, effective questions, and classroom conversation quality. Teach FX professional development complements the app and empowers teachers with best practices for generating meaningful student discourse. Teachers using Teach FX increase their student talk by an average of 40%. Imagine that, 40% more ownership over the class by students. Ruckus Makers can pilot Tteachfx with their teachers. Visit teachfx.com/betterleaders to learn how. That’s teachfx.com/betterleaders. For some students, the meal or two you serve them, that’s going to be it. That’s what they get for the day. Which means we’ve got to get this right.

Quest food management Services elevates the student dining experience, serving scratch made meals using high quality ingredients that are sourced locally and responsibly. Now, you might be thinking, okay, Danny, I get it, the food’s high quality. But do the students eat it and enjoy it? Bottom line, students love the food. Quest is one of the fastest growing companies in the school food service industry and has been consistently ranked in the top 50 food service providers by Food Management magazine. Learn more about Quest food management [email protected]. Or follow Quest food on social media. That’s questfms.com. And we’re back with Nick Sacchero from Quest Food Management services. I highly recommend that you check out their work and their service. You could be proud, imagine this, being proud of what you serve your students.

Something that you should think, you know. And here’s the thing, and this is, now I’m going to get a little bit on the rant and challenge the Ruckus Maker listening, because I know you often tell your staff you measure the success of your school by, would you put your kid in every classroom? And you’ll say that. And you should the question for you to consider is, would you serve your kid the food you’re serving everybody else’s kids in your cafeteria? So if you want a healthy and a really great option, check out Quest food management services. Nick, why does food matter for a Ruckus Maker?

Listening well, I don’t think there’s any shortage. So when I think about your listeners, the listeners of the show here, I don’t think there’s a shortage of research around what proper nutrition can do for academic performance. And I don’t want to imply that’s the only reason we’re here. But I am aware that’s how most of our clients, the administrators that we work with in schools, are evaluated and judged on is really academic performance. The National Institute of Health, CDC, I mean, the list goes on and on around what eating breakfast, what having fruits and vegetables, what avoiding things like soda, for example, can do in terms of showing a correlation at a bare minimum between academic performance and what students are consuming during the day. At times, I think it’s odd to me that some of this stuff is debated in terms of whether or not it’s important or how important it actually is. I think for any of us listening, I think we can all have personal experiences that we can relate to when we’ve had a really big, unhealthy lunch, what we feel like the rest of the afternoon. I think we know what it feels like when we’re hungry and how difficult it can be to focus. And there’s also a lot of research around what access to proper nutrition can do with behavior. Maybe I’m the only person who gets hangry sometimes whenever I’ve not had enough to eat, and maybe I’m not at my best and can be a bit irritable.

But as I think about being a being a building administrator or a school administrator and dealing and managing the the behaviors of dozens to hundreds of thousands of students, and I think about all the variables that we can try to manage with that. You know, it’s hard to manage hormones, it’s hard to manage what social things students might be going through in their own lives, in their homes, etcetera. But we can kind of manage what access to food they have during the day. And if that’s one thing that we can do to take one of the variables out of the equation that might disrupt either behavior or academic performance, it sure seems to me that access to healthy, high quality food is something that we should all be taking very seriously in schools.

How might Ruckus Makers leverage food service to teach concepts in school? I don’t know if that’s something that you sort of train schools on or if that’s something that you see schools that work with quest something that they do, or if you just have some thoughts on the topic, how might they teach those concepts?

Yeah, for sure. I think from our perspective, the kitchen in many ways can serve as a lab on sort of the high end and maybe on the lower end, a resource anyway, at a bare minimum to helping schools teach different concepts. For example, some of the things that we do with some of our schools, I remember being a. I remember well enough that when I was young, learning fractions felt very difficult for me. It felt very abstract. They were just numbers on a paper we have at some of our schools. We’re invited into the classroom when fractions are being taught to do baking demonstrations and help students understand how quarters of cups become half of cups and half of cups become full cups.

And when milliliters turn into liters and all these kinds of things, like from a conversion standpoint, math standpoint, when we can make it more experiential, when we can make it more tangible and tactile for a lot of students, I think it’s a great way that we can use what’s happening in food service as a way to sort of piggyback on what’s going on in the classroom. And, oh, by the way, it’s also an awesome way to help build relationships between the students and our team and the faculty and our team, and again, build that community and that sense of connectedness to one another. Some of the things that we’re allowed to do in some of our schools when geography or social studies classes are talking about things like different cultures and foods they eat or spices or the spice trade or any of those kinds of things where we’re trying to better understand what folks are doing in other parts of the world or even other parts of the country. It’s a great way to. To leverage food service to say hey, we’re studying. I’m just making this up. We’re studying Mediterranean cultures. What could we do to work with you guys to sort of have the opportunity to sample or even learn about some sort of the base ingredients that they’re using in their foods there? So those kinds of.

Those kinds of connections between what’s happening in the classroom and what’s happening in the lunchroom, I think are tremendous opportunities to help make concepts feel more concrete, more understandable, more tangible, and not just sort of abstract that it’s pages in a book about a place over there, pages in a book about numbers that we’re supposed to figure out how to configure. One last thing I would share, I think, from our perspective, is to help equip students with life skills to allow themselves to be self-sufficient, whether they’re living on their own at college or living on their own after high school or whatever the case might be. There are a lot of things that I think a lot of people have to sort of figure out on their own. Kind of trial by fire, if you will.

And sometimes even just making healthy snacks and making food for yourself is one of those things. We do a lot of work with our schools, from younger grades all the way up to high school students with after school clubs and after school engagements where we can either bring in kids or kids and their families and show them how to make simple, healthy recipes, simple, healthy snacks, how to shop on a budget, how to build kind of a pantry on a budget, all of those types of things so that families who maybe haven’t learned those things before, or students maybe who haven’t learned those things before they go off on their own.

Or maybe students who are on their own after school can figure out how to put something in their bodies that maybe is a bit more nourishing than reaching for a bag of chips. And again, all of that work, from our perspective, just continues to build a super high degree of connectedness between our team and the folks that they’re serving every day. And we feel like that’s a win for everybody.

It is. So I think the last question before I get to the questions I ask everybody, I’d really like to hear. I know that you do have done some focus groups with students and what a great way to learn, right, about the quality of instruction to the quality of the food experience and all that kind of stuff. Just high level. When you’ve had those focus groups with students, what did they teach you about food?

We do these focus groups on a pretty regular basis. And from our perspective, just super quick. It is one of the, it is such an important opportunity for students to have a voice in what their experience looks like at school. Right. They’re sort of told what they have to learn in a lot of cases by and when and what classroom they have to be in, et cetera. And these focus groups can really help students take some agency and some control over what kind of food they want to see offered to them. And time and time again, things that we hear are, number one, convenience and speed of service are super important to kids. Why? Because they want to spend time with their friends at lunch. So they want to have experience. Yeah, that’s right. They want to socialize.

They want to have a break. They want to connect with their friends. And if they’re waiting in line or having a long experience getting through the line to check out or whatever the case might be, they are in many ways like little mini consumers. And that speed of service and convenience is super important for students so they can have time to socialize. The other thing, the last thing I would say on this that continues to surprise me, even though I’ve been doing this for a long time, the when I first got into this work, it seemed like more of the affluent students or students from affluent schools had exposure to international foods and a more diverse palette.

But with the rise of the quick service restaurant, like the chipotles of the world as an example, where students can have things that are more tailored for them, made with real ingredients, not just sort of a typical fast food thing that you or I might have had when were younger, the sophistication around having things customized their way and understanding what, quote, real international food really means to them is just grown by absolute leaps and bounds, in my opinion, over the last ten to 20 years, students today have never grown up in an environment without those quick serve restaurants that are offering a more authentic experience. And so the demands for students, for not just the comfort foods on a daily basis, but also those more authentic international experiences, is just, it almost doesn’t matter the age range. It doesn’t really seem to matter the income demographic anymore. That just seems to be almost sort of table stakes just to be in the game anymore.

Got it. Nick, if you could put one message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message be?

So, I’m borrowing this from someone else, but I love the quote. Angela Merkel, said it. And she said, when it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises. And I absolutely love that quote. It applies to our team, the kids. We’re serving everything we’ve talked about today.

If you’re building your dream school, right, you don’t have any sort of limitations in terms of budget. Your only constraint is your ability to imagine what would be the three guiding principles, building your dream school.

So number one would be learning how to solve problems. I feel like that is so much. What life is about, is solving problems, choosing between options, weighing opportunity costs. And that’s not the same as just responding to something on a test. That’s not a criticism of anything anyone is doing. But I think if we had no boundaries from a budget standpoint, financially or time, it would be awesome to find ways to help students, whether it’s engaging with the school or the local community, whatever, working in teams to actually figure out how to identify and solve problems, as I believe that is so much of what life is really about. Number two would be building community. I think, especially in today’s environment, with technology, social media, et cetera.

I see it with my own son, the ability to engage with others in a face to face environment, to build a community of friends, to build a community of people, to build a community with people that you might not normally associate with, whether it’s the janitors or a different group of students or whatever the case might be. But I think another big theme in my school would be building community. And that sort of also comes with how we are being responsible to one another and taking care of one another within this community that we’re working in our school? And then the last one is being active. We spend a lot of time as a society sitting.

And the more I read about the impacts of sitting and obesity on our life expectancy, our health, our quality of life, our quality of relationships, it’s just overwhelming. And I know that schools work really hard to try to fit and program in movement when they can. I sure wish in my school that we would have the budget from a time and resource and money standpoint to keep students very active throughout the day. So those would be the three. The three big themes for my school anyway.

Brilliant. Well, we covered a lot of ground today in our conversation, Nick, of everything we discussed. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Remember the people that are making it possible for your school to function and your teachers to teach.

Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. How would you like to lead with confidence, swap exhaustion for energy, turn your critics into cheerleaders, and so much more? The Ruckus Maker Mastermind is a world class leadership program designed for growth minded school leaders just like you. Go to betterleadersbetterschools.com/Mastermind, learn more about our program and fill out the application. We’ll be in touch within 48 hours to talk about how we can help you be even more effective. We have cohorts that are diverse and mixed up. We also have cohorts just for women in leadership and a BIPOC only cohort as well. When you’re ready to level up, go to betterleadersbetterschools.com mastermind and fill out the application. Thanks again for listening to the show. Bye for now and go make a ruckus.



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