New BUSD Board Tackles District Healthy Food Program

By Sindya N. Bhanoo, Special to the Planet
Friday December 08, 2006

With two recently reelected board members and a new one, Wednesday’s meeting of the school board was both festive and deliberative as it swore in the winners and voted unanimously to elect Joaquin Rivera as president and John Selawsky as vice president of the board.  

Reelected members Shirley Issel and Nancy Riddle were sworn in along with new member Karen Hemphill, who received applause and a standing ovation from an audience of more than 20. Before sitting down, she embraced her husband and young son. 

The board members also congratulated each other on the passing of Measure A, which insures the continuation of smaller classes and enrichment programs for students and teachers. In addition to electing its new officers, district Superintendent Michele Lawrence was named secretary. 

Much of the crowd soon exited and the board returned to business.  


Healthy food program 

Melanie Okamoto, supervisor for the California Nutrition Network, presented the annual evaluation of a program that has had 3,500 children planting, growing, harvesting and cooking their own fruits and vegetables for the last six years. She said the program was popular, but finding an effective way to evalute its success has been hard. 

“Anecdotally, we’ve heard so much from parents and teachers,” Okamoto said. “Kids are coming home and asking for more fruits and vegetables. We see this and hear this, but our challenge is really finding a good evaluation tool.” 

Funding for the program is offered to any school where more than half of students receive free or reduced cost lunches. Berkeley has 14 qualifying schools—11 pre-schools and elementary schools, Willard and Longfellow Middle Schools and Berkeley Technology Academy.  

The $1.5 million a year program is fully funded by the state. 

Though the board commended the program, they criticized the state’s methods of evaluation including the complex questions surveyors asked students about food intake.  

Board member Selawsky said he supported the program but deemed the evaluation a “futile exercise.” 

Issel snickered when she heard some of the questions and results read by Okamoto. 

“During the past seven days, how many times did you drink 100 percent fruit juices such as orange juice, apple juice, or grape juice?” Okamoto read. “Consumption of 100 percent juice decreased by 0.191 times during the past seven days; fruit decreased by 0.05; green salad increased by 0.141…” 

“I have confidence that they are being taught well and to be healthy. This survey is an obvious disconnect and is ridiculous,” Issel said. 

Okamoto she said that in the future she had proposed the state numerically tabulate how students responded to fruits and vegetables after growing them.  

“If more children are willing to consume persimmons during lunch at the end of the month after harvesting them and cooking them earlier, it would be an indication,” Okamoto said.  

This year, the district also plans to survey parents about their children’s eating habits, she added. 

The board praised the creative attempts but requested Okamoto and Ann Cooper, the district’s director of nutrition services, consider renegotiating with the state to determine a more efficient and useful method of evaluation. 

Despite their dissatisfaction with the evaluation process, the board voted to renew the CNN Evaluation Contract for the current school year.