Sep. 16—Dalton Public Schools' School Nutrition Department served more meals this summer than last but is contending with staffing shortages this school year.
School Nutrition provided nearly 149,000 breakfasts and more than 149,000 lunches this summer, both increases from 2020, Wimberly Brackett, director of School Nutrition, told Dalton Board of Education members during a Monday work session. The increase was due to multiple factors, perhaps chief among them that "camps were in full force this summer" after being dramatically reduced in 2020 because of COVID-19.
Though summer meals have long been free to students 18 and under, this is the second school year of universal free meals for all grades at all schools courtesy of a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Brackett. That's increased student participation, "which is great," and afforded staff more flexibility, as they're "not having to take cash, enter in numbers" and perform other tasks.
"Every school is working short" of staff right now, and "I hear daily about discontinued items," Brackett said. Last week, Dalton High School had so few School Nutrition staff that administrators — including Principal Stephanie Hungerpiller and Activities Director Jeff McKinney — helped serve.
Whitfield County Schools has had similar issues with staffing shortages, said Deputy Superintendent Karey Williams. This school year "we're usually short one or two people in each school kitchen" daily, but there was one recent day where "they were down five or six" at Southeast Whitfield High School, so teams of administrators and teachers stepped "in to do the serving."
Brackett has turned to Dalton Public Schools' work-based learning program for help, and "we have five kids working now," she said. It's "a great partnership, and I'm constantly hearing more students are interested."
School board member Jody McClurg told Brackett, "I love that you're using work-based learning" for help in the department.
"I hope we continue this for years," because it's beneficial both for School Nutrition and for the student workers, Brackett said.
Also during the work session, Rusty Lount, director of operations for Dalton Public Schools, provided the board members with an update on current and future projects.
Floor plans are complete for a Hammond Creek Middle School field house where "everyone would have a place to change" for sports, among other amenities, he said. "The ETA (estimated time of arrival) for bids is about two months."
Lount and his team are in the process of hiring an architect for a turf project for Dalton High School's baseball and softball field, and a front sign for the new Dalton Junior High School is delayed until perhaps January due to material shortages, he said. In 2023, he hopes to perform extensive renovations of Roan School, upgrading everything from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting to carpeting and paint.
Roan is set in one respect, he said. The roof is "outstanding (and) will be here long after I'm gone."
In 2024, he'd like to add six classrooms to Westwood School, which "needs more classrooms," he said. "They've really grown bigger than the school."
In 2026, several elements of Park Creek School could be addressed, such as sprinklers, HVAC, lighting, plumbing, the ceiling, carpeting, the gym floor and the roof, he said. That roof is "21 or 22 years old, so the time is coming."