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DC School Food Director Reportedly Fired

Jeff Mills was a driving force behind healthier school lunches and pilot programs with local groups like DC Central Kitchen.

Three years after Jeff Mills was hand-picked by Michelle Rhee to reform school food in DC Public Schools (DCPS), he has reportedly been fired, according to DCist. Several media outlets report that Mills had a shaky relationship with current schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Based on his experience as an NYC restaurateur, Mills put the food at the center of his role as DCPS Food Services Director.

“We’re very conscious of the quality of the food that we’re serving. Meaning, I taste everything,” Mills said in a previous interview with Patch.

During the summer before the 2010/2011 school year, Mills said he tasted somewhere between 50 and 60 different types of chicken and he ran milk taste tests with students.

He negotiated a contract with Chartwells, the primary food services contractor for DCPS, that allowed him to select healthier menu items, getting rid of strawberry milk and many sugary snacks.

But he wanted to do more.

Last year, Patch detailed the DC School Food Revolution as seen through the eyes of advocates for healthier school lunches within and outside the system.

One common theme from Patch's interviews with non-profits, parents and politicians was that they thought DCPS could and should get back into the business of food.

To test the waters, Mills started a pilot program for the 2010/2011 school year, awarding seven schools each to two vendors to run food operations outside of the Chartwells contract.

The vendors were expected to source locally and provide healthy meals that met DCPS standards.

“What we’re doing here is possible. And I think people need to know that,” Mills said at the time.

But his hands-on approach and desire to upset the apple cart appear to be, at least in part, responsible for his departure from DCPS.

Last February, Mills reportedly sent an estimated 1,500 pages of documents about the Chartwells contract along with a PowerPoint presentation on how the contract is costing D.C. too much money, according to food blogger and former Washington Post reporter Ed Bruske. He was pushing for D.C. to start running its own food services again.

Bruske described the fall out when reporting on Mills' departure:

"Henderson shut him out: Mills could not get a hearing for his food improvement plan in the chancellor’s inner circle. He may have been on the right side of all the current school food concerns — he may have had great dreams of serving our kids great food made largely from scratch — but among Henderson’s management team he became the proverbial outsider looking in."

DCPS will not comment on personnel matters as a policy and, so far, there has been no word from the chancellor's office about Mill's replacement.

Council member Mary Cheh, who wrote the Healthy Schools Act in 2010, told DCist that she was caught unawares about Mills' firing.

"I regarded Mills as a partner in doing the best job he could, so I'm not sure why they would throw over the best person they had in that position," she told DCist.

Read more about Mills and others' efforts to improve DC School Food:

A Food Revolution Grows in D.C. Schools

The Shrink-Wrapped Roots of the Revolution

Food Revolution Challenges the Status Quo

New Menus Are a 'Quiet Revolution'

The Revolution Will Be Standardized

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