ROGERSVILLE — Colby Wagoner knows how meticulous the Tennessee Department of Education can be in its three-year administrative reviews because in a previous career he conducted that same review in Kentucky.
That's why the Rogersville City School cafeteria manager was more than up to the task for last month’s 2018-19 review of his lunch and breakfast programs, earning an almost unheard of perfect review with no negative findings from the TDOE.
Every three years, school cafeterias that participate in the federally funded National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are subjected to a strenuous administrative review/audit by the TDOE. That administrative review ensures that school cafeterias are adhering to all federal, state and local guidelines.
Among the areas addressed in the review are health inspections, of which RCS has received three perfect scores in a row since Wagoner took over the RCS cafeteria program at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
"All three times we've had (a score of) 100,” Wagoner said. “We still have to work very hard to get 100. You don't see that out in the community, restaurants. School food service is the safest place to eat."
But the administrative review is also a meticulous audit of the school cafeteria's paperwork related to federally funded lunch and breakfast, including student applications and reimbursements.
Wagoner was a consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education conducting those those same audits at school cafeterias, so he already had a good idea what the reviewers would be looking for.
Negative findings can be for something as minor as misspelling a student’s name on a free and reduced lunch application.
Among the more serious cases Wagoner dealt with in Kentucky schools were mistakenly approving a large number of ineligible students for free and reduced lunch. Those schools had to pay back the federal funding they received for those meals, which could run from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
On Dec. 21, RCS Director Rebecca Isaacs received a letter from the TDOE that during the administrative review conducted Dec. 4-6 the school had zero negative findings.
"In all my years I never had a school that didn't have any findings," Wagoner said. "We always found something. Not that we had to. But we always found something. It's hard not to have any findings in these administrative reviews because they can go back and look at three years."
Wagoner added, "(The RCS reviewer) has been with the Tennessee Department of Education for five years, and she said that's the first time she's had a review that didn't have any findings."
Wagoner went online looking at administrative reviews in other school system cafeteria programs to see if there were any other perfect reviews. He hasn't found any yet, and although he hasn't completed his statewide search, he can say RCS is the only school in Northeast Tennessee that received a perfect review for 2018-19.
To what does he attribute that success?
"Lots of hard work," Wagoner said. "You know when you're going to have a review, so I really started last year. We just have a great team, and our leadership here really supports us.”
The RCS cafeteria serves about 435 meals per day to a school population that was right at 650 as of last week's school board meeting, which means more than two-thirds of the student population eats cafeteria food.
They always serve two hot entrees, two hot vegetables, a fresh fruit and dessert. On Monday, it was pizza and chicken sandwiches; corn and greens with optional vinegar; and fresh apple slices.
A third lunch option available to students was a PB&J with chips and fruit, and for dessert they can buy ice cream or homemade treats. On Monday it was cookies.
Wagoner said he wants lunch to be a happy, fun time for students, and that starts with preparing good food every day that they’ll enjoy.
"I was raised in a restaurant," Wagoner said. "Our family owned restaurants, so we're really, really big about customer service. These are our customers. If we don't have children eating with us, we don't have jobs."
He added, “The way we look at it is, teachers teach, and we help teachers teach by making sure the kids are fed. Not hungry. It's hard to learn with a hungry belly. We want to do our part for this school so the children can learn."