Middle School Parents Steamed Over Absence of Hot Lunches

The Highland Park Middle School cafeteria's kitchen will be unavailable through October, Highland Park iSD officials announced last week. (File photo: Chris McGathey)

The Highland Park Middle School cafeteria’s kitchen will be unavailable through October, Highland Park iSD officials announced last week. (File photo: Chris McGathey)

Because construction of the new cafeteria at Highland Park Middle School will continue through October, the construction of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches at homes across the Park Cities will also be extended.

Last February, Highland Park ISD officials said the expansion of the cafeteria shared by McCulloch Intermediate School and HPMS would last a month into the fall semester, which begins Monday. But the district announced last week that “design revisions and construction delays” have tacked another month onto the project.

Tim Turner, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, clarified that the revisions involved adding a secure entrance to the cafeteria, based on parents’ requests.

Because no food can be cooked until the cafeteria is completed, the district is asking parents to send their children to school with prepared lunches. Some parents are not happy about that.

“This is going to be a huge inconvenience for me as a working mom to have to make an interesting, healthy, and delicious lunch every day,” said Cynthia Smoot, whose son is in the eighth grade.

Smoot’s beef is not just about the demands on her time. Her son plays on the football team, and she said athletes like him need more to eat than, say, a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips. By the way, that’s exactly what will be brought from another campus if an HPMS/McCulloch student informs his teacher by 8:30 a.m. that he doesn’t have a lunch.

“It wouldn’t matter if I was Tracy Rathbun and whipping up the most delicious meal ever. After it sits in a hot locker for four or five hours, he’s not going to want to eat it,” Smoot said. “These kids involved in athletics, they’re exerting a lot of physical energy. And you have to have a lot of protein to keep your brain energized and ready to learn.”

Karen Jacobsen, the district’s food service coordinator, said a light breakfast prepared on another campus will be available to athletes and other students who arrive early. Only milk, juice, and water will be sold during lunch until the expansion is finished.

The seating area in the cafeteria is still available. Principal Laurie Hitzelberger said a temporary wall separates the dining area from the construction zone.

“We have most of the existing space, still,” Hitzelberger said. “It’s slightly smaller, but we still feel like we can fit the kids – in a very crowded manner – into that space, like we did last year.”

Smoot and other parents have suggested the district allow food trucks to line up outside the school. Initially, Hitzelberger thought it sounded like a great idea.

“But when we really looked at the logistics, it just wasn’t going to work for us,” she said.

Hitzelberger said a food truck can feed 150 to 200 people per hour, and Robin Skinner, who markets Ruthie’s Rolling Cafe and has seven nieces and nephews at HMPS/McCulloch, confirmed that. But more than 1,000 students eat lunch there every hour.

“In a situation like this, you would have to have multiple trucks, clearly,” Skinner said. “You would need, in my opinion, at least four or five trucks to make it work where there’s no waiting.”

Skinner said she talked to other food-truck operators who were willing to get on board. But district officials rejected the idea.

“I cannot imagine the lines that that school is going to have of moms dropping off Mi Cocina and Jimmy John’s and Bubba’s,” Skinner said.

Last week’s announcement said restaurant deliveries will not be allowed. When asked what will happen if a mom shows up to deliver a Burger House meal to her son, Hitzelberger said the campus barred such deliveries a year ago because they were such a disruption.

“The feedback we got from parents was overwhelmingly positive, by the way,” Hitzelberger said. “I think it kind of got them off the hook with their kids.”

Nonetheless, Skinner said Hitzelberger should expect to see plenty of moms and dads ignoring that rule.

“I know these parents,” Skinner said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I went to that school. I am one of those parents. I promise you, they are going to.”

By Dan Koller Aug. 22, 2013 | 10:57 am | 25 Comments | Comments RSS
  • NotFromHere

    “Nonetheless, Skinner said Hitzelberger should expect to see plenty of moms and dads ignoring that rule.”

    I guess rules are for the little people.

    Parents already knew there would be a month of bagging it; this is just a one month delay. Most of the days will be hot and kids will not crave a hot meal. An ice pack in an insulated lunch bag surmounts the hot locker problem. Thermos containers can keep hot food very warm. If one sandwich won’t cut it, send two. Fifth graders are old enough to fix their own lunches if parents buy the supplies.

    Please, for the sake of Dr. Hitzelberger’s sanity, play by the rules.

  • http://Donkeykongparkcities.com Donkey kong

    Hey Skinner and Smoot. Chillax!

    We gotcha covered. Haven’t you heard about our Fab school lunch catering pop up we are doing? For $20 cash a week your boyz will get 5 awesome money back guaranteed lunches. All you gotta do is login and order up and we deliver each morning!

    Problem solved S&S.

    Surprised you don’t already know about us.


    FYI. L Fearing don’t cook…..


  • T-Bone

    Please, for the sake of the high property taxes we pay (4x due to Robin Hood), do a better job detailing the construction specifications before you start, hire architects with the experience to design it right the first time, hire contractors who can work 7a-7p during the dry summer months and finish on schedule, and hold HP District employees accountable when they can’t do their job as hired.

    You may not be “from here”, but that’s the way we do things in Texas……..We don’t suffer incompetence.

  • Avid Reader

    Knowing the full risk of extending this conversation that is silly (blast your irritation at them for totally blowing the construction deadlines and only notifying the parents a couple weeks before school, then we can all just make our kids some lunches and the world will keep spinning); the delay is not just one month. The previous blog post included the notification to parents that stated the construction would continue “through the end of October”. September+October=2 months at the very least if they can move forward without any further delays.

  • HP Mom

    I can’t get over how silly these Moms like Cynthia Smoot sound. Really? How ridiculous that you’re griping about making lunch for your kid! You’re busy because you’re constantly busy promoting yourself as a socialite. Mi Cocina delivery? Food trucks? PACK A LUNCH. It can be done. These suggestions scream of entitlement and open the school to compromised security with a stream of “my kid can’t eat a room temp meal so here comes a steaming hot plate of Briskit tacos!” parents. Good lord. This is why people outside of the PC don’t like people inside the PC.

  • http://www.ohsocynthia.com Cynthia Smoot

    It always amuses me that the people who want to leave hateful comments will never use their real names. For your information, HP Mom (whoever you are), my complaint was not that I have to make a lunch. My complaint is that it is an outrage that HPISD so poorly mismanaged this project and now thousands of families are being affected. They’ve had 3 months with no one on the property to get that kitchen done. Maybe you haven’t driven over to HPMS/MIS recently, but they just have the sheetrock up. That cafeteria is nowhere near to be completed. If they have it done by Xmas, I’ll be surprised. That’s poor planning, poor project management and for what I pay to live in this district – I expect better. Like I said in the article, it doesn’t matter how delicious the lunch is I send, after it’s been sitting in the bottom of a locker for 4 hours. It’s not going to be good, and thus won’t be eaten. These kids need to have their bodies and minds fueled to learn. HPSID is doing them a disservice. Shame on them.


    You’re right @CynthiaSMoot. It was a mean comment and I apologize. I totally get the frustration everyone has with the situation but most of the complaints I’ve heard have been more about busy moms having to pack a lunch = less about the poor project management. Someone ought to ask the district to explain themselves town hall style.

  • Lark

    Come on HP Mom, people outside of the PC don’t like people on the inside of the PC because they don’t have enough money to join the club. If they did they would.

  • http://www.ohsocynthia.com Cynthia Smoot

    Thanks for the apology, HPMom. We’re all in this together… Parkie Power!

  • cynthia

    Well played, HPMOM and Cynthia. I am saddened sometimes by the lack of civility on this board. However, I appreciate the mature tone taken by both of you. Refreshing!

  • 8thMom

    I don’t get Mr. Turner blaming the parents for the delay if there was a security issue. After Newton, Ct I am sure everything changed for school design. Thank God we had leadership and parents who had the guts to stand up and speak up! Otherwise, we might have had a security issue? Really?

    Also, the all volunteer PTA is responsible for running the cafeteria, filing the tax returns,etc., and everyday they don’t serve lunch is a loss to the PTA revenue stream. (according to public filings). I’m sure the volunteers would love to find a way to serve lunch – I’m surprised there is not a creative solution that uses economy of scale.

    Project creep, where the simple cafeteria expansion became a much more involved expansion and remodel , with lots of extras, etc. It looks different than the plans presented in February. Can we get some updates with drawings from the district on the new plans?

    First two days have gone ok… kid loves his lunches. And I agree that we need to support the principals efforts and not try to undermine – but still creative suggestions should be made!

  • NFW

    @8thMom-Huh??? The moms serve the food, but I don’t believe the PTA receives any funds from the sale of food. If the PTA runs all aspects of the cafeteria, then why are the employees who prepare the food actually district employees?

  • Sam Tamborello

    School administrators and faculty deserve a HUGE raise, and in my opinion, are way underpaid. My hat is off to them for taking on their job. Lighten up on them, geez.

    So the cafeteria is off schedule, ok. How about thanking the admnistrators and faculty for what they do!

    Thought about that?

  • Pingback: Cafeteria Under Construction: Highland Park Middle School Parents Not Happy | SideDish()

  • Chuckling

    @ Sam,
    Town employees checking water fountains for mosquitos deserve a huge raise, and in my opinion, are way underpaid. My hat is off to them for taking on their job. Lighten up on them, geez.

    So one water fountain in a park has stagnant water, ok. How about thanking the town employees for what they do!

    Thought about that?

  • peoplemakemegiggle

    I really hope that your comment is nothing more than a poor attempt at humor. You come off as an even bigger d*#@&!bag than the whiney, entitled, self important ninnies that are pissing and moaning in the first place.

  • Sam Tamborello

    That last situation must of really steamed a certain HP “group.”

    I’ve forgiven.

  • Sam Tamborello

    When I need a good burst out laugh, I hit this blog. What I’ve been thinking about are all the school educators and administrators that put up with nonsense. I’ll repeat, all the ridiculous nonsense.

    Thank God today for the great educators teaching the kids in the PC and protecting them from danger. Thank God for our servicemen and women facing the dangers today. I bet some of the oldtimers who lived through the Depression and read this stuff…..really laugh out loud.

    I wish you all a safe and fun Labor Day!

  • Lark

    Joking! Sort of. You have to concede that there is a strong possibility of at least a little envy on the part of d*#@&!bags that label PC residents as whiney, entitled, self important ninnies. There’s just too much emotion in a statement like that for there not to be a wound somewhere that needs nursing.

  • Chuckling

    Hmmm, “self important ninnies”. I wonder where I’ve seen one of those on these boards. I feel like I’m very close to finding one, I’m getting very warm, warmer…

  • 8thmom

    @NFW…. It is a unique arrangement, in place for years, as the district does not run a food service program. If you don’t believe me, check the district website and public filings of all campuses PTA tax returns.

  • http://www.parkcitiespeople.com Dan Koller

    And y’all thought HPISD had cafeteria problems:


  • Angela Pea?

    Parents are whining because it is inconvenient to pack a lunch to feed their children? Their CHILDREN? Oh wait. This is Highland Park. I guess what they really mean is that they’ll be inconvenienced instructing the Nanny or the Housekeeper to pack a lunch. And the whole deal about leaving lunches in hot lockers? Really? Do they not understand the concept of an insulated lunchbox and an ice pack?

    Lord love a duck. That privilege should yield such selfishness.

  • BubbleBurster


  • lori

    Why our school districts cannot run their own cafeterias?! What is wrong with having our local restaurants provide healthy meals for our own children. We should be all thinking about making our community stronger and support local places we dine in everyday in any possible way we can. It is not important for the school cafeteria to look beautiful if the food that’s served there isn’t healthy.

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