Many states have already taken these steps to improve their operations, internal coordination, external collaboration and training.

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Gain Agency Support
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The support of your agency’s leaders can help you to improve the programs.

  • Build a positive working relationship with all levels of your agency’s leadership to ensure that the programs have the resources and support needed to thrive.
  • Take the time to learn the priorities and interests of the officials above you.
  • Communicate your program’s needs in a way that aligns with those priorities.
    • This may vary depending on the type of agency. For example, explaining how Breakfast After the Bell can increase attendance and promote academic achievement is meaningful in the education agency, but talking about nutrition and use of local foods may be more helpful in the agriculture agency.
  • Learn the processes and procedures of your agency so that you can direct your requests to the right person at the right time.
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Utilize Resources Efficiently
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How you manage your funding and your biggest asset – your staff – can have a big impact on how well the programs operate.

Staffing

  • Review your current teams, reporting structure, and distribution of responsibilities across staff members and teams.
  • Determine whether your staffing model maintains program integrity while supporting participating organizations and promoting growth. If the programs or your staff have grown or changed recently, your team may not be well-aligned with your current workload and priorities.
  • If current federal and/or state funding levels do not allow for additional full-time employees or equivalents, consider adding contractors or temporary staffing to manage the workload or special projects.
    • For example, the South Dakota Department of Education contracts with the Department of Public Safety to conduct on-site monitoring visits, which extends the capacity of a small staff in a geographically large state. The Public Safety inspectors are stationed throughout the state, which also reduces travel time and costs.
  • Evaluate your onboarding process for new staff members, and consider whether your existing staff need more training and development opportunities. Both internal and external training can be beneficial.
  • Make sure that staff members provide consistent information, and promote a similar approach to training and technical assistance within and across programs. Cross-training and regular communication can help to achieve this.
    • For example, the Kansas State Department of Education holds an annual retreat for staff working on the NSLP, CACFP, and SFSP to ensure that everyone makes consistent determinations about findings.

Funding

As noted in USDA policy guidance, unspent funds must be returned, so be sure to use your State Administrative Expense Funds, State Administrative Funds (for SFSP), Audit Funds, and (if applicable) Reallocation Funds.

  • Plan carefully and track spending regularly to avoid returning funds.
  • Become familiar with federal, state, and agency policies, procedures and deadlines, including the timeline and requirements for procurement at various purchase thresholds.
  • Plan for the possibility of spending or obligating funds before the end of the fiscal year in case some expenses were under budget. Brainstorm ideas for allowable expenditures so that you can be ready if funding is available.

You can free up funding to invest in staffing and program improvements by leveraging efficiencies and economies of scale across multiple programs. Coordinating across programs on procurement and contracts can lead to shared savings.

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Coordinate Across Programs
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Strengthening and streamlining the connections between child nutrition programs makes them more efficient and easier to operate.

Arrange a meeting of agency officials as well as program directors or managers to discuss opportunities for collaboration and streamlining. Engage officials in other agencies if the programs are housed separately. Ideally, continue meeting on a regular basis. In preparation for a meeting between SFSP and CACFP officials, review this cross-promotion and streamlining checklist, and for any meeting of state agency officials, review this state agency checklist.

Streamline Operations

  • Review staffing from a client perspective, considering how many teams and individuals each organization interacts with and how organizations learn about other programs. Determine whether an alternate staffing model or organizational plan might be beneficial.
  • Implement a streamlined process for releasing policy memos and guidance, particularly when they apply to multiple programs or organizations that operate multiple programs. Rather than releasing the same information through each program’s team, have one source.
  • Regardless of staffing model, ensure that staff have appropriate cross-training on other programs or functions.
  • Coordinate on tasks and scheduling, including internal and external training sessions, events, and deadlines.
  • When possible and desired by participating organizations, conduct joint administrative reviews and site visits. A comprehensive financial review is required for schools participating in both the NSLP and CACFP, but other elements or joint reviews are optional. Either way, share documents that would expedite a review.
  • Implement a streamlined process for releasing policy memos and guidance, particularly when they apply to multiple programs or organizations that operate multiple programs. Rather than releasing the same information through each program’s team, have one source.

Cross-Promote Programs

Strong sponsors in one program often make strong sponsors in another program. There are several ways to encourage organizations to participate in additional programs. These include:

  • Leveraging agency and program communications to promote other child nutrition programs.
  • Presenting at training sessions about how to participate in other programs, such as having an SFSP representative speak at the annual CACFP training.
  • Discussing the option to participate in additional programs during reviews and technical assistance visits.

If school districts or sponsors are unable or unwilling to sponsor multiple programs, develop a system to ensure that their schools and sites are connected with sponsors in other programs.

In addition, consider working with the agencies administering WIC, SNAP, or subsidized child care, as well as other social service agencies and providers, to discuss opportunities for cross-promotion.

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Streamline Applications and Data Systems
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Shortening forms and sharing information across programs can ease the administrative burden on state agency staff, schools, sponsors, and sites alike

Shorten Forms

  • Take an inventory of the documents that new applicants and renewing organizations must submit for each program and see if forms can be shortened or simplified.
  • Consider collecting some information from pre-application screening questionnaires, which may also help to flag applicants who are better suited as sites or need additional assistance early in the process.
    • Several states including Texas, California, Michigan, and New Jersey have implemented this practice for SFSP.
    • As a specific example, the California Department of Education asks prospective SFSP sponsors to first complete an introduction package, which is used to verify the organization’s non-profit status and assess their viability.
  • For information that is “nice to know” but not required, like service model or use of local agricultural products, consider obtaining the information in other ways besides the application, such as:
    • With optional application modules or follow-up forms, which can be framed as allowing for better tailored technical assistance;
    • During technical assistance visits or training sessions;
    • During administrative reviews;
    • Through pre-review questionnaires; or
    • As part of the claim for reimbursement.

          ​​​​​For example, the Michigan Department of Education decided to add a form on “Farm 2 Summer” initiatives as part of the review process rather than include it in the application.

Eliminate Duplication

  • Develop tailored, shortened application forms, application addenda, or application modules for organizations transitioning from one program to another.
    • The Alabama State Department of Education has developed a set of checklists and forms specifically designed for SFSP and CACFP Afterschool Meals sponsors transitioning between programs.
  • If possible, make applying or renewing for CACFP Afterschool Meals part of the annual NSLP/SBP application.
  • If it is not possible to create a shared online application and data system that can transfer pertinent information across program modules, implement standard data-sharing procedures, like a list of all documents or reports shared when an organization participating in one program applies for another.
  • Leverage publicly available data.
    • For example, the Florida Department of Health is able to obtain audit reports for school districts, so the state agency does not have to require districts to submit them.
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Train Effectively
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Investing resources in training yields enormous benefits, setting up participants for success and increasing compliance.

Web-Based Training

Virtual training may not be an appropriate substitute for all live training and technical assistance. However, on-demand training with online modules or videos can be a convenient supplement or alternative in certain scenarios:

  • For smaller groups that need specialized information, like camps operating the SFSP. 
  • For specific staff members, like accountants.
  • For prospective applicants who would otherwise have to wait for a significant period of time for in-person group training sessions.
  • For participating sponsors and sites that want a refresher on specific topics.
    • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has an online training platform, and certain training modules are sometimes assigned as a corrective action for noncompliance.

If completion and comprehension are concerns, you can require a post-training quiz. Also, be sure to tell viewers where they can find additional information or ask questions, especially if a module does not cover everything the audience will need to know about a particular topic or overall program management.

There are some commercially-available child nutrition program training platforms, and there are also webinar and training platforms that allow you to create your own recordings with slides and images. Or, you can simply create videos with a smartphone or webcam.

  • The Oregon Department of Education recorded slide presentations, uploaded them to YouTube, and provided a full listing of course options on their CACFP, SFSP, and School Nutrition training pages.
  • The Kentucky Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program staff created simple videos that they filmed themselves with a webcam to provide short, fun updates and technical assistance for sponsors every three to four weeks from April to October.

Rather than create your own content, especially on topics that are not specific to your state’s procedures and forms, consider recommending existing reputable online training resources, such as web-based training modules from the Institute of Child Nutrition.

In-Person Training

Effective in-person training opportunities employ techniques that actively engage attendees, helping them to better understand and apply information to their work. Include interactive and skill-building elements throughout the session, like:

  • Brainstorming (such as menu ideas or solutions to common problems),
  • Quiz games,
  • Case studies,
  • Small group discussions,
  • Rotating roundtables on specific topics,
  • Coaching on specific skills or tasks,
  • Role-playing and skits, or
  • Implementation planning.

No matter the format, ensure that the information relevant to attendees.

  • Some states are able to offer separate training dates for different audiences, particularly in densely populated areas.
  • Have breakout sessions within a larger training so that some content can be tailored to specific audiences.
  • Provide resources and training materials that will assist attendees in training their coworkers, employees, and site staff.

To assist in planning high-quality training sessions, consider collaborating with other organizations, such as state or local non-profits. Other organizations may be able to donate space for the session, and they could also help with logistics or planning activities. Some organizations may be able to present on topics like communications and outreach strategies, nutrition or nutrition education, or innovative service models.

Technical Assistance

Promote strong customer service standards among staff so that organizations know that they can get the timely answers and support they need to be successful. Create a process so that participating organizations know when and how to ask questions and proactively work through issues. Build trust and positive relationships with participating organizations to promote compliance.