An industry veteran takes the reins at the School Nutrition Association and looks to build a stronger child nutrition coalition.
Frank DiPasquale assumed his role as the new CEO of the School Nutrition Association and the School Nutrition Foundation in August, following the retirement of long-time SNA head Barbara Belmont. Previously, DiPasquale spent 14 years as an executive with the National Grocer's Association, representing the national community of independent retail and wholesale grocery distributors. Before that, he was corporate director for Human Resources Management and Operational Services for one of the nation's largest retail chains.
Among other accomplishments, DiPasquale developed the “Farmer Goes to Market Program,” a model for USDA's local and sustainable food initiative; he was also co-developer of the PBS series, “Food Sense.” DiPasquale holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Iona College, New Rochelle, NY, and a Masters Certificate in Human Resource Management from Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY.
Recently, FM visited SNA's offices in National Harbor, MD, to interview DiPasquale about his views on the future needs and direction of SNA and its 53,000 members.
What do you see as the most significant long-term objectives for SNA?
DiPasquale: We will be looking to grow membership and the association's revenues. As part of that, we will focus on developing strong programs for the education and professional development of our members.
Given the large amount of mis-information that is often promulgated about school nutrition programs, one of our most important goals will be to correct some of those mis-impressions held by the media and the public.
In practical terms, how will that translate into SNA's programs and activities?
DiPasquale: It will take a very strategic public relations and nutrition advocacy program, among other things. We need to do an effective job communicating the value and significance of the school nutrition profession to all stakeholders and potential professionals who might enter the field. It will mean reaching out to universities, other foodservice segments, people in the commercial restaurant community.
It is important that we devote attention to recruiting the next generation of highly qualified school nutrition professionals. This field has a lot to offer and we need to market its career opportunities both to those in college and to those in the larger foodservice community. Many do not think of school nutrition as a career option, when in reality it often represents an opportunity to run a good sized business and to lead large groups of people in a field that can be very rewarding.
I would like to see a much broader coalition of partners, ranging from other associations, to industry and industry partners, that can be proactive in terms of informing the public, and advocating on behalf of child nutrition. We think it will be critical to develop, with like minded companies and individuals, a strong program to better inform the public, politicians, resource allocators and business leaders about the great work being done in the school nutrition community.
In the near term, what do you hope to accomplish in the next 12 months?
DiPasquale: First, we'll be working with our board and a select group of other members to develop a strategic plan that clearly outlines the objectives and direction of this organization for the next three to five years. Establishing our membership goals and professional development standards will be part of that process.
Development of professional standards is required under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, and we will be working with the USDA and other allied organizations on them. Another area of focus will be food safety: the FDA has indicated that enhancing food safety standards for school nutrition programs is a priority and we need to understand more clearly what that means and what kind of enforcement that may entail from FDA.
And on the legislative front?
DiPasquale: We will be looking to advocate with USDA to obtain commodity support for school breakfast programs. We would also like to have it more clearly define what indirect costs schools can and can not appropriately charge to nutrition programs. As proposed Dietary Guidelines and recommendations are implemented we think it is very important that they reflect the modifications SNA has recommended. If they are, we believe it will help eliminate a lot of the confusion that exists about what is healthy and nutritious in the context of school meals.
We will also be keeping a very close eye on the appropriations process under the Farm Bill. This is especially important right now, given the budget pressure Congress is facing to reduce spending and enhance revenues.