Bringing a background in restaurant and hotel management to the job of feeding thousands of students every day, Erica Biagetti said she wants to grow the Cheshire School District’s food services program through more engagement with students.
"There's a lot of great aspects that the program has and I would just be here to enhance those aspects and be able to increase our outreach to more parents, more families, more students," said Biagetti, who recently took over as director.
Since her first day on the job on April 12, Biagetti has been working with outgoing director Madeleine Diker, sharing recipes and getting to know the staff and facilities. Though Diker, 64, is retiring, she has been working through the transition with Biagetti.
"With Madeline being as available and as accessible as she is — and how awesome everyone has been here in Cheshire — it's been a great opportunity. Where sometimes it can be stressful, but this has been very fun and enjoyable. I'm very eager and looking forward to my future career here," Biagetti said.
Before coming to Cheshire, Biagetti led the Guilford School District’s food service program for several years and ran the program in Milford schools prior to that.
Vincent Masciana, Cheshire District’s chief operating officer, said her time in those districts gives Biagetti valuable insights that could assist her in running Cheshire’s program, particularly her experiences in Milford, which has a centralized kitchen rather than preparing meals in kitchens at each school.
He also noted that Biagetti is the president of the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut for the current academic year and has served in numerous positions with the organization over the past few years.
She received her bachelor’s degree in food service management from Johnson & Wales University and then worked for Omni Hotel and Resorts and the Olive Garden restaurant chain. Though not having to work nights and weekends was a welcome change, Biagetti said the main reason she shifted to working in schools is to teach others about nutrition. She eats school meals every day and is working with Diker to see what new recipes they can serve students.
After Diker announced her retirement, a six member committee was formed to sort through the dozen applications to fill the position. Masciana said that at the end of the process, Biagetti was the unanimous choice
Though it was a difficult decision to step away from her career in education, Diker, 64, said it’s become difficult to travel four to six hours to visit her three grandchildren. Knowing that Biagetti would be her successor, however, made saying goodbye to her team easier.
"I feel really confident and I'm thrilled at Erica's abilities and her judgment and her personality, and I think she's going to be a great leader for the team and she's going to bring in a lot of good ideas. So I'm excited for the program," she said.
When schools closed last spring, the district’s kitchen workers continued reporting to one centralized location and worked side by side every day on meals-to-go until schools reopened. Biagetti said an unexpected benefit of the pandemic has been that those workers have gotten to know each other; where they would only see one another once a year, now they know if they’re having difficulty at one school they can call for aid from another.
Though the pandemic is taking up the bulk of her attention, Biagetti is also working on transitioning to a new technology system, Mosaic, which will allow students and families to have more engagement with the food service program. Students and parents will be able to download an app that allows them to view meals available on a given day, filtering for any allergies they designate.
"We're looking to do an online menu app system that helps with identifying food ingredients for allergens, carb counts for diabetic students, letting kids actually rate the food — which is fun and scary all at the same time," Biagetti said.