Jessica Shelly. Provided

By Kathryn Robinson

Cincinnati Public Schools

Jessica Shelly, Director, Student Dining Services, Cincinnati Public Schools received the coveted 2023 IFMA Gold Plate Award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) at the close of their 69th Annual Gold & Silver Plate Awards Celebration on May 21.  

Shelly was nominated in the “Elementary & Secondary Schools” category by P&G Professional and Nestlé Professional and selected from the nine honorees who took home 2023 Silver Plate awards.  

The Gold Plate has not been awarded in the “Elementary & Secondary Schools” category since 1994, making Shelly the first individual to win the top honor in 29 years.  

The Gold & Silver Plate Awards is the longest-running and most respected awards program in foodservice. Each year, a distinguished jury of industry experts weighs the merits of candidates who represent the best in the industry.  

Winners receive the Silver Plate Award and one is then chosen by secret ballot to receive the Gold Plate Award for overall industry excellence.  

“Nutrition is essential for the overall well-being and academic success of our students. Our Dining Services team has worked diligently to improve the quality of meals and overall dining experience for our students,” Superintendent and CEO Iranetta Rayborn Wright said. “We strive to create a culture of health and wellness in the District, and we are proud Ms. Shelly’s work as Director of Dining Services, and her commitment to quality and innovation are being recognized.”  

Shelly was lauded at the awards ceremony by her mentor, Chief Operating Officer of Cincinnati Public Schools, Chris Burkhardt who told the attending crowd that Shelly “has right-sized, trained, led, coached, strategized, and innovated to become one of the most respected K-12 directors in the country. But that is not why she is here tonight. She has an unwavering focus on improving outcomes for students in and out of the classroom. Period.”  

In accepting the Gold Plate, Shelly thanked her husband, three sons, and team. She went on to express her gratitude to the food manufacturers who made up the majority of event attendees. “You here tonight are the reason I can feed my kids nutritious meals every day – because you’re so dedicated to your businesses. Thank you for helping me nourish our future.”  

As Director of Student Dining Services for Cincinnati Public Schools, Shelly 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 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.  

“While I am honored with this recognition, this is not an individual effort,” Shelly said. “I am incredibly grateful to work with a talented and dedicated team that is committed to excellence. From Superintendent Wright to each individual in our schools, our CPS team is always reinventing and investing for our more than 36,000 students.”  

“It was an honor to nominate Jessica for this prestigious award,” said Paul Edmondson, Vice President of P&G Professional North America. “I admire her ability to build partnerships with groups and businesses that create bonds between the school system and the Cincinnati community and how she puts the needs of the students first in her operation. She is an exceptional leader and most deserving of this award. Our hometown is lucky to have Jessica as a leader within our schools.”   

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