Danelle Smith began her career in school nutrition as a cashier in a cafeteria in Pitt County. That was 2002. On Monday, after years of promotions into jobs of increasing responsibility in Pitt, she took over as director of child nutrition for Lenoir County Public Schools.
She likes the fact that she came up through the ranks and believes that background helps her as a manager.
“I think experience is everything,” Smith said. “You’ve been there, you know what it’s like, you know how it feels to do a cashier’s job and what the responsibilities are and you know why they’re doing it. You can’t really understand what someone’s going through unless you’ve been in their shoes.”
"We are very pleased to have Mrs. Smith join the Lenoir County Public Schools family. She comes highly recommended and brings a great deal of child nutrition experience from entry-level food service positions to district-level management roles," Superintendent Brent Williams said. "We are confident that she will contribute significantly to the continuous forward progress not only within our child nutrition department, but also across our entire school system."
Smith takes over the district-level position with LCPS after working for five years as a child nutrition supervisor with Pitt County Schools, where she had oversight over 11 school cafeteria operations. Previously she worked as an assistant manager at a middle and elementary school cafeteria and as cafeteria manager at an elementary school. The time was right to take another step up, she said.
“I began in food service because I love children and I wanted a schedule that would be great with my own children,” said Smith, who has two sons. “I could stay home with them during breaks and spend time with them in the afternoons. My sons are grown now and in college, so I have more time to devote to my career.”
Danelle Smith steps into the job vacated by Pam Smith, who resigned to take a position in another county over the summer.
Her first week on the job here has, almost literally, been a baptism by fire. With the kitchen at Kinston High School’s cafeteria knocked out of commission by a pre-dawn fire last Friday, Smith reported to work on Monday to find administrators and school nutrition staff adapting to the situation.
“I have had the chance to work with some employees due to the fire – helping make sandwiches and things – and I see the employees are very competent and know what they’re doing, especially with food safety,” Smith said. “They’re very mindful of food safety and what goes on in the cafeteria.”
She comes in to her new job with long-range goals – building relationships with other departments and continuing to develop the district’s child nutrition program – but in the short term she’ll be taking stock.
“I want to get out to the schools and see what the needs are in their cafeterias and see what we need to do to grow our program as far as participation goes,” she said.
Even with no-cost breakfast and lunch offered to all LCPS students, it bothers Smith that all of them are not eating the meals available to them at school. They’re missing out on nutrition and more, she thinks.
“We have to help them understand,” she said, “that they can’t learn on an empty stomach.”
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