food professionals from California school districts sit and listen to a presentation during a training event
Food service staff from 17 school districts across California attended the 2023 Napa Scratch Food Professionals Training Event. (Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews)

UC Davis CPE Provides Leadership Training to K-12 Food Service Members at the 2023 Napa Scratch Food Professionals Training Event

School food service professionals understand the importance of leadership development. With California’s recent initiative to advance scratch cooking in school cafeterias (prioritizing fresh whole foods over processed pre-packaged foods), comes a lot of challenges, particularly in staff development. “We can’t achieve this without a fully developed, qualified staff,” said Christina Lawson, food service director for Western Placer Unified School District.  

Through a joint effort of school districts, Vacaville Unified partnered with Western Placer Unified and Madera Unified, along with Shared Plate Strategies, to organize the Napa Scratch Food Professionals Training at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in downtown Napa. The event brought together 100 school food professionals from 17 districts across the state, representing more than 350 schools and nearly 200,000 students. This year they expanded the event to include a leadership development course from UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education (CPE), in order to give their teams the relevant training and the positive mindset they need to be successful.  

UC Davis didn’t just try to deliver a generic training but one that was customized to the needs of our audience. — Christina Lawson, food service director, Western Placer Unified School District

“We provided hands-on culinary training to give our food service staff technical skills, but we also wanted to give them the opportunity to grow in the kitchen as leaders, so they can have more impact on students,” said Lawson. “That’s where UC Davis came in.” Lawson said that providing leadership training gives their teams the mindset to think outside the box in terms of what school food could be, as well as the skills to support working in a team environment.  

“We wanted to give them top-notch training, so we brought in Disney, the creme de la creme of customer service,” said Lawson. “We also wanted a high-caliber partner for leadership development and had heard good things about UC Davis. The end result was perfect.”  

UC Davis CPE Instructor Lisa Montanaro presented Be the Best Version of You in the Workplace: Developing the Leader Within, which focused on communication best practices, leadership principles and styles, the impact of a growth mindset, generational groups in the workplace, keeping yourself and your team members engaged, and more. Lawson said the training was incredibly applicable to their staff. “Lisa did a phenomenal job of connecting the material to the people in the audience, and I am excited to see how they show up to work now knowing what Lisa taught,” she said.  “Lisa did a great job of taking some of the challenges we experience in the school kitchen and pairing them with potential solutions.” Lawson added that for an audience not used to sitting for long, Lisa’s training was very engaging. “All four hours of Lisa were very valuable.”  

school food professionals engage in conversations during their training event
During Lisa Montanaro's leadership development training portion of the event, participants developed an action plan with specific items to research, work on and practice in future. (Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews)

Lawson said that working with UC Davis CPE was very efficient, but what she valued most about the partnership was that CPE truly cared about the event and their goals. “UC Davis didn’t just try to deliver a generic training but one that was customized to the needs of our audience. They took time to think about what we were really looking for,” she said.  

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Based on feedback from participants, Lawson said that the CPE leadership training was the top-rated non-culinary training at the event. “For our participants, UC Davis did a great job of really connecting and tailoring their training to our audience. UC Davis beat Disney!”  

“I 100% absolutely want to work with UC Davis in the future,” said Lawson. “I would love to have UC Davis come specifically to my district and my team to work on our specific challenges. This was a good intro into what UC Davis can offer us in terms of training, and I’m excited to see what we can do with UC Davis in the future.”

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