Newton School Committee approves new vendor for school cafeterias

The following first appeared on The Heights, an independent, nonprofit newspaper run by Boston College students, with which the Newton Beacon has formed a partnership. Stories produced by The Heights have been written and edited by The Heights.

The Newton School Committee (NSC) approved a new food service vendor for Newton Public Schools (NPS) in a unanimous vote on Monday.

“We’ve got somebody who is excited to partner with us and talked about the priorities that are critical,” said Amy Mistrot, NPS director of business operations. 

The committee approved Chartwells Schools Dining Services as the district’s new food service management company following the end of its five-year contract with Whitsons Culinary Group.

Mistrot said of the four vendors Newton considered, Chartwells best matched the district’s priorities in food service, which included hands-on management and rigorous staff training.

“You must be in the schools and you must train the staff,” Mistrot said. “We are only as good as our weakest school, we are only as good as our weakest service worker.”

Some school buildings have older kitchen facilities than others, but Newton’s food services are working to ensure consistent quality of food, Mistrot said.

“We’ve done some work in the last year to replace a lot of our old equipment,” Mistrot said. “We’ve also bought freezers for all of our elementary schools to be able to have food on hand and take some of the urgency out of food delivery each day.”

NPS’ new grant to purchase blast chillers—a refrigerator that quickly lowers the temperature of food—for all the elementary school buildings will also help food services standardize high-quality food, according to Mistrot.

“It’s to purchase blast chillers to put in each of the three newer elementary school kitchens and then we’re going to employ teams … to create meals, blast-chill them, and create a new level of freshness,” Mistrot said.

NSC member Amy Davenport recommended the district make note of whether students at the high school level eat at the school cafeterias more often with the new vendor.

“I’d be curious to see with both increased quality and support towards new district initiatives, whether students vote with their feet, so I’d love to get a glimpse of that in the future,” Davenport said.

Chartwells has designated a position for promoting any new food and sustainability initiatives to families, which could prompt more students to take advantage of the better food, according to Mistrot.

“[Chartwells will be] sharing it out to our community of parents so they know what’s happening in the schools and build some confidence about what their kids are eating,” Mistrot said.

NSC Vice Chair Emily Prenner said she looks forward to working with Chartwells for Newton’s schools.

“I’m very much excited to get to know them and see the changes that they enact,” Prenner said.