If you look up the word NEXUS in the dictionary – defined as “connection or link; center or focus” – you might just find a picture of Dr. Debra Morris, director of school nutrition for the Jackson County School System.
She is one of just three state-wide Nexus Awards winners announced Oct. 24 by the Georgia Department of Education’s School Nutrition Program leaders.
The surprise announcements were made at the University of Georgia’s Hotel and Conference Center in Athens where Dr. Morris and her peers were attending the annual School Nutrition Directors Conference.
“It is an honor and a pleasure for our school nutrition staff to be recognized for their hard work and dedication to providing healthy meals for our students,” Dr. Morris said last week.
Her team has won the state’s Golden Radish award at the highest level for six consecutive years, and Shake It Up awards at the gold level since they were introduced three years ago.
The GaDOE Nexus award honors “an elite group of School Nutrition Programs and their Directors (who) have created outstanding nutrition programs in their districts,” according to information provided by the organizers. The award is presented in Small, Large, and Super System categories; Dr. Morris was honored in the Large System category (6,000 to 23,999 students).
In presenting the award, state officials cited JCSS’s previous Golden Radish and Shake It Up awards, as well as the school system’s annual participation in the state’s Student Chef Competition, where Dr. Morris worked closely with the career, technical, and agricultural education department’s food services classes.
Farm-to-School efforts also were noted, including school gardens, Harvest of the Month, student taste tests, 2020 Vision, a special Farm Day event, and the “Feed My School for a Week” program, where 95% of the food served in the county system’s 10 schools was Georgia-grown.
“All staff have a minimum of 13 hours of training with the option of expanding their training with a monthly O.N.E. Cliff Notes Class,” GaDOE officials noted. “They are extensively involved with their community, adopting a family to support for the whole year, volunteering time to prepare meals for students enrolled in evening alternative learning, (and partnering) with the Boys and Girls Clubs to provide hands-on Farm-to-School food preparation and nutrition lessons.”
They also pointed out that the school system’s Georgia School Nutrition Association Nutrition Advisory Committees meet monthly, “creating leaders and developing experimental learning experiences so the participants can educate their peers about school nutrition.”
Dr. April Howard, superintendent of Jackson County Schools, surprised Dr. Morris at the conference for the presentation, which was made by Dr. Linette Dodson, director for the state’s school nutrition program.
The Small System award went to Fannin County, where Candy Sisson is director; the Super System award went to Fulton County, Alyssia Wright, director.
The Jackson County Board of Education honored Dr. Morris on Nov. 11, 2019, at its monthly meeting at West Jackson Elementary School.
The Jackson County School System serves 8,300 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in six elementary, two middle, and two high schools across the county.