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Distinguished Service Award

Health Services Director receives Distinguished Service Award for COVID support

Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith presented the Distinguished Service Award to Health Services Director Amy Ruff for going above and beyond to support the school district during the pandemic. This award is the first of its kind and serves as the highest honor the district presents to a staff member.

When the pandemic hit in the winter of 2020, no one could predict the impact it would have on our world, let alone a small town school district in Southeast Washington state, said Superintendent Smith during the award presentation at the All Staff End-o-Year Celebration at the Walla Walla High School Commons. He noted fear, confusion and anxiety were commonplace in March of 2020 as COVID took hold of all of district conversations. School buildings were locked, in-person learning came to a screeching halt, distance learning plans had to be developed and the Washington State Department of Health, in consult with the Center for Disease Control, rolled out vast rules and regulations for operating schools.

“Thankfully, the district had Amy Ruff on staff to help make sense of these changing and most challenging times,” said Superintendent Smith. “Her dedication, professionalism and can-do attitude spread across our campuses to help staff, students and parents ease their fears and have a clear understanding of how the district would navigate this worldwide pandemic.”

As a little girl Amy knew it was her calling to serve her country in the military. Amy's father was a career Naval officer and her grandfather helped set up the first medical hospital on Normandy Beach in World War II. Her father wanted her to join the Navy, but she was ready to see different places, having moved to a different base every two years as a child. After graduating from the nursing program at Washington State University, she received a direct commission to join the Air Force Nurse Corps where she would serve for 22 years and climb to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 2003, she was deployed to the Middle East as the medical commander for the deployed combat unit.

Amy says this experience helped prepare her for managing COVID safety operations the past two years. She says nurses have to make decisions in high stress situations, understand public health practices, manage disease outbreaks and keep troops ready to fight and fly. She says operating in a war zone reinforces the need to take care of your people and earn their trust. "People are your greatest resource," according to Amy. "It's a great feeling knowing you are taking care of people and earning their trust. Teamwork is the only way to survive!”

Since the pandemic forced the closure of schools in March 2020, Amy has been managing the district COVID safety protocol operations. She oversees testing and reporting, dashboard case counts, stay-at-home orders, communication with state and local health departments and staff training.

“Amy’s focus has been to keep our doors open and continue serving students and staff,” said Superintendent Smith. “If a principal or anyone else in the district needs something, they know they can call Amy.”

Amy says "Managing the operations during the pandemic was like living in a war zone at times, and I can say that because I was in a war zone. The most difficult part of COVID was not knowing the end game."

It was no coincidence Amy landed in Walla Walla following her military career. One of her sisters moved to Walla Walla in the early 1980s. Eventually her mother, father, another sister and brother would follow to take up roots in the Walla Walla Valley. It was just a matter of time before Amy joined them. Amy was working as a nurse practitioner on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, CO when the Walla Walla Health Services Director position opened in 2017. She accepted the position and says Walla Walla is now her forever home. She will be retiring this school year but will be forever remembered for helping the district overcome the challenges and heartaches of the pandemic.

 

 

WALLA WALLA PUBLIC SCHOOLS • 364 South Park St. • Walla Walla, WA 99362 • Phone: 509-527-3000 • Fax: 509.529.7713

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