Food service PHS

School board member Dyna Tutt talks to Food Service Director Mimi Spreen about food options served in the PHS cafeteria.

During the Monday meeting of the Palestine Independent School District board, the group recognized several exemplary students, discussed the food service program and approved a resolution regarding home learning.

The Sept. 20 meeting opened with recognition of junior Rotarians of the month, De’Myzjean Martin and Delaney Fletcher. Also honored were the September students of the month, Reagan Sokolowski and Jeremy Reyes.

Jordan Crabill was recognized for her work restoring the A.M. Story Intermediate lion mascot which sits in the lobby of the school and was in need of updating.

Oct. 13 is Texas Education Human Resources Day and the board recognized Suzanne Eiben, assistant superintendent of human resources, along with the rest of the human resources departments throughout the system.

Following the spotlight portion, public comment was heard from Connor Willoughby, a 5th grader at Story who presented his case for bringing back recess at the intermediate school.

Willoughby said he has garnered 100 signatures in support of the idea and cited studies that show students perform better when they are given adequate recess times.

“This is a shame as we 9 to 11 year olds are erupting orbs of pure energy, which is the exact reason why we need recess,” he said.

Willoughby also presented research to support his claim that recess his beneficial to school age kids and only aids in academic success.

His remarks brought applause and the end of the public comments.

Superintendent’s report

Without need for a closed session, Superintendent Jason Marshall presented his report and addressed current enrollment which is hovering around 89-91%. Marshall confirmed this number falls within the parameters necessary to maintain the approved district budget.

Marshall also made note of several upcoming events:

  • Sept. 24 is a half day for students and marks the end of the first six weeks

  • Sept. 27 there will be a pep rally which will take place in front of the high school at 6 p.m. to kick off homecoming week

  • Sept. 28 PHS will host a grand opening for the new industrial arts facility. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a ribbon cutting, followed by an open house which will run until 7:30 p.m. At 6 p.m. there will be a career and technology showcase highlighting 13 programs including 10 different career clusters, according to Brian Howie, the director of college, career and military readiness.

  • Also during the 6-7:30 p.m. timeframe report cards for Palestine Junior High and PHS will be available for pickup.

  • Oct. 8 will be a student holiday and staff development day.

  • Oct. 11 will be a student and staff holiday to honor Columbus Day.

Food service program

During a report on the district food service program, questions regarding supply chain demands were addressed. District Manager Louis Keefe from Chartwells, the food service supplier for PISD, said their focus is on timing and staying ahead of any issues. To date they have been able to supply needs and supplement where needed while maintaining United States Department of Agriculture guidelines for student meals. He said he doesn’t foresee any issues.

Keefe and Food Service Director Mimi Spreen handed out sample boxes with portion sizes so the board members could see some of the items they were referencing, like examples of quantities of baked versus fried french fries. Spreen and Keefe explained calorie allotments as well as saturated fats and other guidelines that must be met to maintain requirements. All of the board members were invited to eat in the PHS cafeteria to taste meals following the meeting.

PISD is in the second year of a five-year term of what is known as the Community Eligibility Provision. This means students meal costs from the National School Breakfast and National School Lunch program will be reimbursed to the district from the USDA by way of the Texas Department of Agriculture. 

To continue to be reimbursed for the meals, there are specific requirements for the food items served.

Board member Michael Bennett had questions about whether or not students were actually eating the meals as served, with baked versus fried fries, for example.

“How much of this is being thrown in the trash can versus being eaten?” he asked.

“If you are reimbursed by the federal government for a meal, you have to follow the USDA guidelines,” Keefe said.

Bennett then asked if it was possible to return to paid meals, if it meant providing things kids will actually eat.

“Why do we have to follow the government? They are wrong on everything they do, basically,” Bennett said.

He said he has seen school trash cans full of food and that when kids are not full, they will not learn.

Keefe explained the USDA standards have continued to get more strict and Chief Financial Officer for the district, David Atkeisson, said there is not another option with the program. If the schools receive the reimbursement, they must abide by the guidelines.

Marshall interjected asking if there were paid a la carte options which might bridge the gap.

Spreen explained the additional item options at the high school and junior high but specified there are more limited a la carte items at the intermediate school. Any of those students can still choose another entree item.

“My general feeling is people have been happy with us that we have gone and gotten the community eligibility provision,” Marshall said.

Atkeisson confirmed the numbers show the cafeteria is serving the highest number of meals they have served during his tenure.

Consent items

Consent items on the agenda were all approved, including minutes from the Aug. 23 meeting, bills paid for August, the financial report, monthly investment report, tax collection report, donations, Anderson County appraisal district 2022 approved budget, 2021-20211 district action team members and 2021-20211 school health advisory council members. The board also passed the hiring of one new teacher for the Story campus.

Eiben presented information regarding the update of the district of innovation plan.

Funding for online learning

The board unanimously voted for a resolution allowing online, asynchronous learning for students out with COVID-19 or in quarantine. The resolution is a result of the recent passage of Senate Bill 15 in the Texas Legislature. The bill allows funding for the online learning which does not require one-on-one instruction from a teacher. This does not open online learning as a regular option for any student, but instead gives the district online learning options in case of coronavirus exposure or illness for up to 10% of the student population, while still receiving funding for the student.

When campuses are aware of an absence or notified by a parent of a positive COVID test, online resources will be available to those students until they are able to return to school.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Oct. 18.

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