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Learn to be efficient: Check out Idaho City’s schools

A cafeteria worker prepares salads to go for teachers and students who will eat in their classrooms.
A cafeteria worker prepares salads to go for teachers and students who will eat in their classrooms. Boise State University

This is the second of two parts about Idaho City schools. Read Part 1, published April 12.

Idaho City Schools’ head maintenance guru Jim Anderson has a Santa Claus look to him: fresh face and white beard, happy eyes and a calm spirit.

I’ve been looking at what makes organizations work well, and especially at what goes on behind the scenes — work by people we don’t normally think of as critical to their organizations. That’s why I was intrigued with the Idaho City schools’ maintenance, custodial and food-service functions. All are crucial to keep the 354 kids and 55 employees in a clean and operational facility.

“What have I had to fix here that’s unusual? I’ve fixed it all, so nothing surprises me any more.” After more than 15 years, he says he knows the nine school buildings in the Idaho City complex better than anyone around. He has cleared snow, fixed broken windows, repaired leaks and dealt with frozen pipes. But he smiles when he thinks about the kids.

Recently, as Anderson stood looking up at a ceiling in need of repair, a first grader slipped a few pebbles into his hand.

“I found these on the floor,” she said. “I thought you would know what to do with them.”

Mr. Anderson’s wife, Claudine, oversees custodial work at the school, and just listening to what she accomplishes between 6:30 and 8:15 a.m. made me tired: “I clean five bathrooms, the admin office, the music and art rooms, the preschool, the library and the special-ed room.”

In the restrooms alone, she mops floors; cleans toilets, mirrors and sinks; changes the toilet paper and towels; and empties the trash. The school goes through five cases of toilet paper each month, 48 roles per case.

During lunch, she cleans the tables and floors between the three shifts of kids who come in from 11:30 and 12:20. But, like her husband, she laughs when she thinks about the kids.

“They’re so funny, and some are just goofy. You just have to laugh.”

* * *

Food and cafeteria supervisor Cyndi Watson is one of three employees who prepare prescribed meals for 190 middle and high school kids, twice a day.

The lunchroom, where 15 tables hold 16 kids each, is bright, even on a cloudy Thursday in March. The kitchen is organized. The women feed all the kids breakfast every day and 190 kids lunch (middle and upper school) 20 days per month, while rotating the menu monthly. They build recipes that follow requirements from the USDA that regulate calories, saturated and trans fats, carbs, protein, sugar and sodium, while incorporating five vegetable groups. Even portion sizes are regulated these days. Thank goodness for Nutrikids, the software that monitors the ingredients to build the menus.

Rachel and Shelly, the other employees, do a lot of preparation before they need an item so they’re not scrambling day to day. When I was there, Rachel was grating 10 pounds of cheese to be frozen and used in upcoming weeks. Shelly was making salads for take out (kids or staff who want to work in their classrooms over lunch) and for the lunch room. It was only 10 a.m., but I was tempted to hang out and wait for lunch.

Over a school year of nine months, 20 days a month, they provide about 62,000 breakfasts and 34,000 lunches, just for the kids (not counting staff members), and they do it on $180,000 a year.

They’ve found ways to be more efficient over the years, from using disposable trays to using less water to wash the trays to buying “commodity food,” mostly canned food, in cooperation with other districts.

* * *

Business Manager Cindy Hunter has been with the district since 1992 and watched it grow in students and shrink in staff members.

“We all wear lots of hats,” she says, from overseeing after-school programs to starting a science club.

She is proud of the district’s positive culture, the transparency in its budgets, the collaboration across teachers and staffers, and the fact that several board members continue to serve even though their kids are no longer in the schools.

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