The national School Nutrition Association has awarded Loudoun County Public Schools Director of School Nutrition Becky Domokos-Bays with its National Director of the Year award. Domokos-Bays is credited with leading a number of programs that offer students healthy and appetizing options, while providing leadership to her staff and teachers.
She has helped shape LCPS into a school system where students can “try new foods in a safe environment,” and take food nutrition concepts home to help educate parents about the benefits of a healthy diet. The job isn’t easy, with more than 82,000 students in the district.
“We are the biggest restaurant in town,” she said during an interview Tuesday.
Domokos-Bays has helped expand nutrition programs for her districts over the course of her 25-year career, the past five years in Loudoun. Programs started under her watch include after school snacks, summer feeding and fresh fruit and vegetable options. She also created alternative breakfast options such as Breakfast in the Classroom and Breakfast After the Bell, as well as programs like Taste It Thursdays and Fear Factor Fridays that give students a chance to try new cuisine that may have previously been a bit scary to them.
Along with her staff, Domokos-Bays started a successful summer meal program that served more than 49,000 students during summer 2018 alone. Her hiring of a marketing coordinator, Stefanie Dove, has strengthened the communication link between the school nutrition department and parents.
Working with the Loudoun County School Board, Domokos-Bays eliminated the reduced-price fee for meals in her first year, increasing participating from 65 percent to 85 percent. Under her leadership, school meal participation has steadily increased each year and the program has maintained a healthy fund balance without a meal price increase in the past four years, according to SNA. Domokos-Bays has incorporated more locally sourced foods on the menu, upgraded school nutrition technology in all 92 schools, provided shoes and chef coats to 385 staff members and is now working to improve the dining experience in middle schools.
Loudoun’s Farm to School program has grown under Domokos-Bays’ watch as well. Five years ago, there were 30 active school gardens throughout the 92-school system. Today, there are 54 gardens. She has also established partnerships with local farms to bring, for example, fresh strawberries from Wegmeyer Farms into schools straight from the farm.
“You can’t really get any fresher than that,” said Domokos-Bays. LCPS, a Farm to School national partner, is hosting a regional meeting for Virginia’s Farm to School Network at Frederick Douglass Elementary School from 3-5 p.m Tuesday, May 7. The meeting is part of a statewide initiate led by Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, and Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring.
Domokos-Bays isn’t just known for her work with children. Her program has a staff retention rate of 95 percent among district managers. She holds annual training sessions, hosts local chefs for knife skills training and offers a Support Services Leadership Academy, which focuses on building management skills. She requires continued education for school nutrition staff and was the first in the United States to establish an SNA District Owned Membership (DOM) for her 108 managers and staff members.
SNA President Gay Anderson stated that Domokos-Bays’ passion for students “is evident in the number of positive programs, initiatives and events she has spearheaded over the years. She is a great example of a school nutrition director invested in the well-being of her students and the high quality of service expected from her staff.”
SNA, based in Oxon Hill, MD, will honor Domokos-Bays during a ceremony July 14 at its annual conference in St. Louis, MO. The Director of the Year award recognizes nutrition directors who manage effective school meal programs that provide healthy, appetizing meals to students.
The May 7 regional planning meeting in Leesburg is open to farmers, educators, school nutrition professionals, school administrators, community members, parents, and students. Go to the School Nutrition section of the Virginia Department of Education websiteat doe.virginia.gov to register. For more information about school meals, go to SchoolNutrition.org/SchoolMeals.