Madison Schools Spotlight: Feeding Bodies & Minds

Madison City Schools marks 20 years since separating from the Madison County Board of Education and becoming an independent school district. Since that time in 1998, it has become a powerhouse school system. The public is invited to a 20th anniversary celebration Sept. 18, at 6 p.m., at James Clemens High School where school groups will perform and student work will be on display, capped by Superintendent Robby Parker unveiling his Strategic Plan.

Leading up to the celebration, the Madison City Schools is spotlighting a different aspect each week of what it takes behind the scenes to keep the schools running. In the following “spotlight”, the system’s CNP Food Services is highlighted, showing what it takes to prepare over 6,000 lunches and 1,000 breakfasts a day.

Each day even before many students awake, school cafeteria employees are at work preparing meals for them. Madison City Schools is the largest food service in town. MCS Cafeteria workers serve approximately 6,000 lunches and 1,000 breakfasts daily. That’s over 1 million meals annually across 11 schools and the Pre-K Center. That’s a lot of bellies getting filled and minds being nourished.

As Coordinator of the Child Nutrition Program, Marty Tatara has a plateful of responsibilities. She works with food distributors and a staff of nearly 70 school lunchroom workers to keep kitchens equipped, freezers running and pantries stocked – often with just-in-time deliveries.

Kitchens must be staffed and trained not only in food preparation but handling, storage and cleaning as well. Menus have to be well planned for public posting and to meet nutritional and pricing guidelines.
Mrs. Tatara and her bookkeeper, Joan Kammer, maintain thousands of student accounts from both pre-pay and pay-as-you-go transactions. Food must be bid and fit within budget.

CNP workers are aware of the stereotype that school meals are bland.  But spend a day in these kitchens and you’ll find workers aren’t just throwing together pizza or chicken nuggets. Many attend workshops led by culinary chefs to learn seasoning and cooking techniques. They take pride in their work and learn students by name. Staffers often post fun food facts near serving lines and display holiday-themed decorations.

Madison City Schools began an initiative in 2014 to acquire more locally grown produce. The district was already getting periodic shipments. A farm-to-schools collaborative expanded deliveries of sweet potatoes, melons, oranges, tomatoes, peaches and apples from local growers.

The initiative improves freshness and nutrition while boosting the local economy. Community feedback on the farm-to-schools program has been overwhelmingly positive. Scott’s Apple Orchard has visited school lunchrooms to show a fun video and answer questions about apple production.

The Madison City CNP is self-supporting, generating its own money and paying essentially the full cost of operating this massive program. Parents are welcomed anytime to join their kids for lunch and try one.

Meals remain a bargain. Breakfasts are $1.75 for K-12 students. Lunches are $2.65 for PreK-5 students; $2.90 for grades 6-12; $3.60 for faculty, staff and volunteers; and $4.60 for visitors.