Jessica Shelly, MBA, SNS, REHS

Elementary & Secondary Schools Category

As Director of Student Dining Services for Cincinnati Public Schools, Jessica is responsible for overseeing the service of over 60,000 meals each day at 67 schools. She is a trailblazer in the area of school nutrition with unique implementations at Cincinnati Public Schools such as salad bars and cultural spice stations in every school, reimbursable meal vending machines, a clean label initiative, and a local, small business, minority owned purchasing focus.

Jessica holds her BA from Miami University and her MBA from University of Cincinnati where she was the Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year. She currently serves as the Chair of the IFMA Elementary & Secondary Schools Food Leadership Council as well as holding leadership roles in multiple professional organizations and appointments on several nonprofit boards.

In Her Own Words

How did you get your start in the foodservice industry? 
I fell backwards into school nutrition. My undergraduate degree is in Biology, and I was working as an epidemiologist for the Cincinnati Health Department investigating foodborne and waterborne illness outbreaks. Part of the role was conducting food safety training for food service operations throughout Cincinnati, and one of those operations was Cincinnati Public Schools Student Dining. 

Out of the blue, a Training & Compliance Supervisor position opened up in Cincinnati Public Schools Student Dining Department, and it felt like kismet...I cannot imagine my life if I hadn’t come onboard with Cincinnati Public Schools. I have met lifelong friends in the world of school nutrition, stretched myself to grow, kicked down the invisible boundary that exists in school nutrition, and hopefully made the lives of hundreds of thousands of scholars healthier.

What do you enjoy most about your career in foodservice? 
You can never have a bad day in school nutrition when you keep your focus on the big picture: feeding our future. It is the highlight of my day when I can go out to a school, have lunch with our scholars, and talk to them about our meals and good nutrition. 

Tell us about a proud moment you’ve had along the way. 
I am super proud of our department becoming one of the first districts in the country to adopt the Good Food Purchasing Program as policy in all our food procurement standards. We now base our procurement on five core values of nutrition, local economies, environmental suitability, valued workforce, and animal welfare. 

How would your team describe you as a leader? 
My team would probably describe me as a creative thinker and cautious optimist...They would also describe me as someone who is organized and calm under pressure, but I always operate with a sense of urgency. It is one of my main goals as a leader to support my team and be approachable if they are struggling with an issue.  

What advice do you have for someone new to the foodservice industry? 
One of the best things about the school nutrition segment is that every school is working towards the same mission of feeding our future generation...Don’t let fear stop you from growing or from finding a good mentor. 

What does being an IFMA Silver Plate recipient mean to you? 
This is not something that I did alone, and this award is as much for the amazing people on my team I am honored to work with every day. I am so lucky to work with a team with such talent, dedication, and commitment to excellence. From the Superintendent and Chief Operations Officer to every boots-on-ground team member in our schools, our CPS team is always reinventing and investing for our 38,000 scholars. 

What is your favorite meal? 
My favorite meal is any delicious meal at a school with our young scholars. Nothing can brighten your day more than having lunch with a first grader whose face lights up with excitement as they talk about their favorite school meal!