With twenty five years of experience in school nutrition—and just five years left until he’s eligible to retire—you might wonder why Mark Bordeau is heading back to school to pursue his bachelor’s degree in business administration through Empire State College in New York. But if you talked to him for just a minute or two you wouldn’t wonder any longer, because it’s clear—Mark loves school nutrition. It’s been his business and his passion for almost his entire professional life.
“I have a background in hospitality management,” Mark told us by phone. “I was a very young family man working in the restaurant business when my mom saw an ad in the paper for a school lunch director job at my local district. I applied and the superintendent offered me the job during the interview, which was pretty awesome! I was hired on December 1—[that’s] 25 years.”
Today Mark works as Director of Food Service for Broome-Tioga BOCES. For those who aren’t familiar, BOCES is a shared-service provider that helps schools control costs by providing programs and services districts can’t afford on their own, including nutrition services. Mark describes BOCES as “kind of like an educational cooperative”—an apt comparison.
Mark’s SNA membership came about when he was working in Watertown, New York. He recalls his time there fondly, and as integral to his growth in the association.
“The Watertown directors were a very close-knit group of people,” Mark recalled. “They brought me in at the local level and I got involved in the local association, and then at the state and then the national level. I love the involvement, the professional development, the networking—[SNA] is an amazing group of people.” Over the years Mark has served on numerous boards and committees at the local, state, and national level, and attends as many conferences as he can—ANC, LAC, and SNIC.
“I’ll be in San Diego in January 2016, and I can’t wait,” he said. “We’re all willing to share ideas, talk about problems, and come up with solutions together. You never feel alone in SNA—you feel like you have a huge family to help you with anything you need.”
When Mark started taking online courses through Empire State College he didn’t seek out scholarship opportunities. However, when his second year came around Mark’s financial picture had changed so he turned to SNA for help.
“There were a few factors that led to my application,” explained Mark. “My middle son [was in] graduate school at the University of Buffalo, and I got married again in August. The wedding, and the expense of combining two households—we had to build a new garage!—meant I had more expenses this year.” Although he considered taking the year off to ease the financial burden, Mark hoped he wouldn’t have to put off taking classes for twelve months and applied for a scholarship through SNF.
“The scholarship came at a good time; it helped me continue without a break. I can’t thank the School Nutrition Foundation enough for that opportunity.” And because SNA does such a great job of promoting scholarships through emails and their website, said Mark, the information he needed—and the application form—were already at his fingertips.
Going back to school now is an investment in both his present, and his future, Mark explained.
“School nutrition is a complex, in-depth program, and I wanted to go back to college so I could learn the latest and greatest business practices to do the best I can at the job I have. I’m also thinking of the future; in five years I’ll have thirty years, and I’ll be eligible to retire if I choose. That lines me up to do something outside school nutrition, or maybe work with a larger school district. Going back to school gives me options for my present, and down the road when I retire.”
Although challenges remain for school nutrition professionals—the new professional standards, challenging finances, and balancing customer preferences against nutritional requirements—it’s clear that Mark sees all of these as additional opportunities for growth for both himself, and his colleagues.
“It’s an exciting, growing time for school nutrition, and I think professional standards will increase the level of professionalism and help us keep our staffs educated, so I think there are a lot of positives!” enthused Mark. “I’m excited about the future of the program, and proud to be a member of the School Nutrition Association. I’m very proud of what we do together, every single day.”
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