SNF Scholarship Series: ANC First Timer Tina Senz, Cafeteria Manager, Chehalem Valley Middle School, Newberg Public Schools, Oregon

Welcome to the 2016 SNF Scholarship Series! We are thrilled to revisit this popular series, in which we connect with your SNA colleagues from around the country to learn more about them and how an SNF scholarship is helping them pursue goals and achieve their dreams. Our First Timer recipients were nominated by a supervising director to attend their first Annual National Conference in San Antonio, Texas. We’ll meet our First Timers and their directors in the weeks leading up to ANC. Please visit the SNA website to learn more about ANC 2016 in San Antonio.

When Tina Senz began her career in school nutrition she was living in Hawaii, and looking for a fresh start after working for twelve years in the bakery department at Safeway. Starting as a substitute in her daughter’s grade school, Senz eventually found herself working at the local high school where she spent the next six years. In 2007, after moving back to her home state of Oregon, Senz worked a few odd jobs before re-entering the world of school nutrition in 2009, where she’s been ever since.

“In 2012 I was hired here at [Chehalem Valley Middle School]. I was in a la carte, and when a management position opened up at a grade school I applied,” recalled Senz. “I started [in that position] at Edwards Elementary and after two years the gal here at the middle school retired. I started here, and then came back as manager, so I’ve really come full circle.”

It was Senz’s work ethic and dedication to her students that prompted Nutrition Services Supervisor of Newberg Public Schools Cheri Meeker to nominate her for a First Timer award.

“She’s worked her way up,” said Meeker. “She became a kitchen manager at one of my elementary schools with very high poverty, and a breakfast-in-the-classroom program, and she handled the job with such grace. When I had a middle school manager retire this year, Tina was chosen to take over her kitchen and again she handled it with great grace. She was interacting with a new age group, but she just treats the kids with great respect, and Tina’s brought the count up because she likes the kids and enjoys serving them.”

Moving from a retail foodservice environment to schools was a natural shift for Senz, who says school foodservice runs in her family.

“I had two aunts [in school foodservice] and one of them was my lunch lady when I was in school,” she recalled. “My other aunt was the nutrition service specialist for the Portland school district for many years. When I first started it was so nice to have the same schedule as my child—I highly recommend [schools] to anyone who loves foodservice.”

At work, Meeker has become a friend and mentor to Senz, and both women look forward to attending the conference together.

“Cheri is just wonderful, and we have become very close,” said Senz. “We even exercise together! Our PE teacher has an exercise program for the employees for free, so we do that together Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. She’s always been a big support. She has an open-door policy, and she’s very accepting and open to suggestions; Cheri is supportive of me in anything we want to do or try.”

“I love to take my newbies [to ANC],” said Meeker. I want them to see that there is a whole world out there, doing the same thing we do in Newberg. Sometimes we get this tunnel vision, but I love my managers to see the networking and broadening of horizons [at ANC]. The trade floor that’s about three football fields long—that’s major. I want to broaden [Tina’s] horizons, see that bigger world out there, and connect with other people. There’s also the fact that we’re rooming together, and that builds our relationship as well. Doing this whole experience together—hanging out, going to dinner, finding breakfast together—that part builds a stronger team when we’re back here doing our day-to-day work.”

As for Senz, she’s going into her first ANC with big expectations and a desire to find big ideas to bring back to her own district for next year.

“I am looking forward to the whole experience—I’m expecting awesomeness!” said Senz. “I truly love our state conferences; I go down every year in March for the one in Salem, and I really enjoy the classes. I’d like to see other ways to do things to get ideas to bring back to my kitchen to spice things up a bit. My goal is to find out what people are doing that works, what hasn’t worked for them, the education, and gathering information. And I’ve never been to Texas, so that will be fun, too!”

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