Jill Bruce has seen a lot of changes in her 31 years as the food service director for the Minot Public Schools, from new kitchen equipment to new rules to computers.
But one thing has always stayed the same.
"It's been lots of fun," said Bruce. "I guess I just love working with kids."
Andrea Johnson/MDN •
Jill Bruce will retire after 31 years as food service director for Minot Public Schools.
She also enjoys working with facts and figures as well as food. She's a pretty good cook herself, said Bruce, and one of her adult daughters still has dinner with her parents every night even though she lives on her own. Bruce said home cooking is healthier than eating out every night. She's always told kids that what they eat when they're young will have a big impact on how they feel when they're 50, 60 or 70. It's just too bad that kids can't see the immediate effects of what they eat, she said.
Bruce, who graduated from Mohall High School, was hired by the school district in 1978, right after she graduated from North Dakota State University in Fargo, and will be retiring this spring.
Bruce's retirement plans are to spend more time sleeping in. "I'm not a morning person," she explained. She said she also plans to spend more time with her husband, Barry, and helping her parents. She'll also be available to fill in where she's needed. She's let it be known that she will be available to fill in as a food service worker for the Minot Public Schools if needed or to be a ticket seller for school games.
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"I'm a people person," she said, so she wants her future part-time job to involve plenty of contact with the public. She's hoping to be a part-time census worker when the census is taken next year.
Bruce said she's needed the ability to get along with all sorts of people in her job as food service director. There are some 120 people working in the food service department in the Minot Public Schools, some of whom work for an hour or so a day and some who work up to eight hours a day. They're great people who work hard, she said.
She said it's harder to find people to work in food service than it used to be because fewer people can afford to take a part-time job for only a few hours a day. Bruce said the school district's greatest success in attracting food service workers has been advertising in the school lunch letter that goes home with students. Some parents of students are interested in working for the school district, being around kids and being able to be back home before their kids come home from school.
Bruce also handles purchasing and menu planning for the school district and troubleshoots any computer problems that her department might run into.
Food prices have shot up, as have employee benefits and wages, and the department has replaced equipment so Bruce requested and was granted an increase in lunch ticket prices for the 2009-2010 school year.
Bruce said a person in her job also needs to handle changes and unexpected occurrences.
One of the biggest changes that has happened throughout her career is the ever-changing technology. Bruce also has enjoyed the updating of kitchen equipment. In 1983 she oversaw the remodeling of the kitchen facility at Minot High School-Central Campus. In 2008 she enjoyed being able to design a prep kitchen at Washington Elementary. It was exciting when she saw the industrial kitchen she had designed and everything working just as she had imagined it, she said.
Bruce said there have also been a lot of changes in what is served in the school lunch program. When she first started out, she paid the most attention to getting low prices. Now she's also paying close attention to food labels on everything that is bought to be served in school lunches. The school district now serves more whole grain breads, more fresh fruits and vegetables, and more low-fat milk. Food options are greater as well. Unlike when she first came on the job, the school district serves breakfast, a la carte options and special meals for children who are on special diets.
The government required schools to adopt a wellness policy three years ago that requires Bruce to pay close attention to the nutritional content of items sold in school vending machines as well as to items sold for school fundraisers. She said the school district has eliminated soda pop at the elementary level and has limited the size of soda sold in vending machines at the high to school to no more than 12 ounces.
She said she's run into occasional resistance from parents who don't think the schools should be controlling what kids eat, but Bruce said students spend a large percentage of their days in school and she does think the school district should exercise some control in teaching students to make good food choices.
In a nice bit of symmetry, her younger daughter, Erin Bruce, just graduated from college this spring and has been hired as food service director for the Minot Public Schools when her mom retires. Bruce said her daughter wasn't sure at first if she wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps, but Bruce advised her to try out an internship in the West Fargo schools. Her daughter decided that she loved working with school kids too.
Bruce said her daughter is pretty independent minded and she'll resist the urge to give her too much advice as Erin Bruce starts her career in her mom's longtime office.