NORTH TONAWANDA — After parents raised concerns about the quality and quantity of meals provided for students by the school district and board members say they're looking to make some improvements.
Last month, North Tonawanda mom Kim Sinon launched a petition on Change.org to gather support from members of the community that also felt the school district's meals could use an upgrade. The petition shows a picture of a school breakfast, which included only a pre-packaged muffin and a juice box.
"Our children deserve better quality breakfast and lunch at school," Sinon wrote under the description for the petition, which has collected about 380 signatures. "Food is the fuel that gives them the energy to learn all the things they need to build a better tomorrow."
After parents spoke up about the concern at a school board meeting, officials took note and started looking at ways to improve the situation.
Superintendent Gregory Woytila said that the district has been working with food service providers Aramark to hire a new director to oversee the district's food service. Though Aramark is not affiliated with the school district and does not have to get district approval for new employees, district officials were involved in the interview process and believe they have found the right director.
"It's their position to hire, but we did sit in on the interviews," Woytila said. "The new director has a culinary background and he has kids in the district, we think it's a good match."
Following the school board election and budget vote on Tuesday, he said the district will open the conversation up to the public using their ThoughtExchange software to see what changes parents would like to see in the meals their students eat at school.
School Board Member Erik Herbert said he has gone to several of the district's facilities to sample breakfast and lunch options for himself, including the district's intermediate school, where he said the complaint about the lunches originated from.
He said that while the staff was great and willing to answer any and all questions and that the sizes of the meal seemed adequate. He also noted that Aramark is meeting all state standards for school lunches, though he believes parents may not be entirely aware of which foods fulfill those standards.
"My biggest take-away is I think there's a disconnect between what that state requires and what parents are informed about," Herbert said. " For example, every kid has to take a fruit. But juice counts as a fruit, I don’t think a lot of parents knew that."
Woytila said that the new director will be looking at ways to offer fresher foods as opposed to prepackaged food and said the district will continue to monitor the food situation and adjust as needed.
He also said Aramark has been working to set up a farm-to-school program that would allow the district to use its surplus state aid to purchase fresh produce from regional farmers.
Sinon, in an update to the Change.org petition posted after the district's budget hearing on Tuesday, thanked the school board for taking concerns about school meals seriously. She also said she was glad to see the district looking into options to increase access to fresh produce.
"This board is amazing ... every one of them have really put a lot of effort into putting in motion the things needed to improve the entire situation," she wrote. "Tonight at the meeting, they told us we now have a director who lives in our district, that will oversee the quality of the food. His children attend our schools in this district. That tells me he wants the same things we want."