OSZ Influencer of the Week: Melissa Cordero, Dr. Phillips Elementary and Southwest Middle School

Melissa Cordero is the food service manager at two different schools in West Orange County.

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Melissa Cordero is the food service manager at Dr. Phillips Elementary and Southwest Middle schools and is called the “cafeteria manager extraordinaire.” She not only runs an outstanding cafeteria but also makes sure students have breakfast in the morning and dinner if they are in the after-school program. She also is flexible when the school needs to adjust food service for scenarios such as state testing. She is a kind- and warm-hearted leader who always has the students in mind. Cordero has been with Orange County Public Schools for 14 years and was named Manager of the Year in 2017-18.


What brought you to your school?

I was introduced to my school a few years before I actually became the manager. I was working out of the district office for food service, and I was sent there to fill in for the day because the school was short staffed. I remembered just how much I loved being there and how welcoming everyone was toward me. When my day was over, I said to myself that I was going to be the manager of that kitchen one day — and here I am.


What do you love most about your school?

The relationships that I have built will forever be everlasting from my administration to my employees.


What is your motivation?

Leading my team to be the best, learning new things, challenging myself to always be the best version of me.


What is the most rewarding part of your job?

To know that you are making a difference in a child's life. With the impact of COVID, we saw and know many families were and are impacted, and the fact that I can participate in giving the students breakfast, lunch, supper and snack is a blessing. You know that you are doing all that you can so that a child doesn't have to go hungry.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spending time with my children. Life moves by us so fast that our children grow up, and by the time you know it, they have graduated school and have left home to go to college and you are trying to figure out how they got to be 18 so fast. That happened to me this year when my oldest left to go to college.  


Who was your favorite teacher when you were in school? Why?

Mrs. White was my second-grade teacher. She was so caring and compassionate and showed me so much love and understanding. She was doing her best to help me deal with and distract me a little because my younger brother was diagnosed with cancer. Being in second grade, that was a lot to have to process.  


When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?  

I wanted to be a teacher because of the great educators I had in my life. I wanted to be one of those educators who made a difference in me. I did not become a teacher, but I believe that I am making a difference each and every day with the students that I feed daily.


What is your favorite children’s book and why?

“Green Eggs and Ham,” by Dr. Seuss. The adventure that Sam -I- Am went on to try and convince Guy-Am-I to try and eat green eggs and ham was great; I looked at it as it was such an adventure that he was teaching us to rhyme while trying to convince someone to eat green eggs and ham. As we all know, he succeeded, and he made me want to try it.


What are your hobbies?

I love to write.


If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

If I could have any superpower, I would love to be able to heal, because there is so much pain and suffering in this world.


If you could only listen to three bands or artists for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?

I love music. I would have to say 1. Jagged Edge 2. Nicky Jam and 3. Adele. All three are so very different types of music. Jagged Edge because I grew up listening to R&B and can listen to them all day long with the slow melodies. Nicky Jam because, who doesn't like listening to him and to his beats? And Adele — some of her songs hit home as she talks about things that she is or has gone through.


What was your go-to lunch as an elementary student? Any favorite snacks or special treats you remember?

Pizza. Funny how years later that doesn't change much because fast-forward — now the elementary students still love pizza. You can't go wrong with pizza. Special treats I remember getting are the chocolate chip cookies; there was something about having a nice warm cookie.


What is your favorite holiday and why?

Christmas. There is just something to say about the scent of Christmas. I love the scent of pine and Christmas music. I love the spirit of Christmas, the giving, the decorations.


Who was your best friend when you were in school and why? Are you still in touch?

Bonnie, and, yes, we are still in touch to this day. We just clicked and connected. She is that friend that has become family as we grew up together. We are sisters.


What were your extracurricular activities as a student? Did you win any accolades or honors?

Unfortunately, much of my time was spent in the hospital with my brother, which did not leave time for many activities after school. Thankfully, he beat cancer!



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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