Paula Rust, director of health services for the Kenton County School District, was honored with the 2021-2022 Kentucky Education Support Staff Professional (KESSP) Award on Feb. 22. A second awardee will be announced on Feb. 24.
The award was created in 2020 at the state level by Gov. Andy Beshear and. Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman to recognize the state’s more than 46,000 classified school employees. Classified school employees serve in vital and often overlooked roles, from driving students to school, to preparing their meals, to working with partner agencies to ensure vital needs are met.
Rust received her award in a surprise visit by Lt. Gov. Coleman, a former educator, and Commissioner of Education and Chief Learner Jason E. Glass.
“Our classified school employees serve in many roles in our schools. Though often behind the scenes, the work they do is incredibly valuable,” Coleman said. “I am so thankful we have an award that recognizes at the state level classified school employees who do exemplary work.”
Glass said, “I am grateful that the governor and lieutenant governor are taking this opportunity to honor the immeasurable contributions classified employees make to every school district in this state. Their hard work and dedication to all of Kentucky’s public school students is both noticed and deeply appreciated. Our schools simply could not function without them.”
Rust chooses to create a positive difference each day by making the Kenton County School District a community of stronger, more compassionate learners, said her nominator, Jessica Dykes.
“Paula respects and serves others, specifically by maintaining consistent communication during this unprecedented time. She is extraordinary. She can be found helping throughout the district with COVID-19 testing, conducting a vision screening for preschool students, participating in a Mister Rogers video as a guest to show the audience the importance of wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing, or collaborating with school staff on a medical condition of a student,” said Dykes.
Rust worked with the Northern Kentucky Health Department to create a COVID-19 Decision Tree for schools, which has been shared statewide. She was invited to present the district’s COVID-19 Decision Tree to Directors of Pupil Personnel across the state.
“Paula Rust is a visionary leader for the Kenton County School District and one who embodies work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, local support, and enhancement of classified school employees’ image in the community and schools as described in the RISE Award,” said Dykes. “For all of these reasons and more, Paula Rust is very deserving of the 2021 Rise Award.”
In winning the award, Rust’s name has been forwarded to U.S. Department of Education (USED) for consideration for the 2021 national Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award. The winner will be announced by the U.S. Secretary of Education in the spring of 2022.
The RISE award, which recognizes classified school employees who have displayed excellence in serving students, was passed by Congress in 2019 and is overseen by the USED.
Kentucky’s RISE Award committee, composed of key education stakeholders, was assembled by Lt. Gov. Coleman and Gov. Beshear to review and score the nominations.
Kenton County Superintendent Henry Webb echoed Dyke’s praise for Rust and her work for students.
“Paula Rust is a dedicated district leader who works tirelessly for the safety and well-being of all stakeholders in Team Kenton. Her guidance has been, and continues to be, instrumental in our success as we have adapted to these challenging times in education,” said Webb.
“Paula makes decisions with kids first always, and creates world-class educational opportunities for students and staff.”
He said Rust has even incorporated mentoring high school students who are seeking careers in the health industry and leading district health care professionals with training and professional development.
“She is simply amazing, and her impact can never fully be measured,” said Webb.