Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-16-2022


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Professional Doctorate in Educational Leadership (ProDEL)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Rick McCown

Committee Member

Liliana Castrellón

Committee Member

Deborah Scigliano


This qualitative dissertation study took place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of this study was to examine the work of school food service professionals as this has implications for all school food service staff. Specifically, this study focused on the role of the cafeteria managers, through their practices, beliefs, the support needed, and challenges they faced during a complicated reality of meeting student needs, and to contribute to the improvement practices in school food service for future emergencies. The research questions, methods, and data analysis are framed using the first three principles of Improvement Science described by Bryk et al. (2015). This study utilized a qualitative method approach using semi-structured interviews to understand the challenges presented and the lessons learn in how the school food service professionals at this research site are ensuring that students have continuous access to healthy nutritious meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data analysis revealed emergent themes for both the challenges faced and the lessons learned by school cafeteria managers. Using thematic analysis to analyze the interview transcripts, the researcher was able to examine the participants’ lived experiences on serving students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found the following five themes from the challenges faced; (1) Location, (2) Supply Chain Issues, (3) Safety & Security, (4) Staffing, and (5) Negative Perception and the following three themes from the lessons learned; (1) Flexible Access, (2) Strong Support Systems with Community Engagement, and (3) Rethinking the Operating Model. The importance of the findings can help address issues when implementing emergency feeding systems, and also provide support for future plans to those who work in school food service.