Gurganus administrator has been with Craven schools for 25 years

The children come first.

That is the long-lasting mantra of Debbie Hurst, principal of W.J. Gurganus Elementary School.

Hurst was named 2016 Principal of the Year for Craven County Schools at a surprise ceremony in front of the entire school on Tuesday in Havelock.

“I have to keep the children first,” said Hurst. “It’s not about the big people in the building. It’s about the children. It’s about my students that are here every day that are relying on us to give them the best that we can give them.”

Hurst has been with Craven County Schools for 25 years. She was a teacher for 16 years and an administrator for the last nine years, five of which she has been a principal.

“The children make the school. I’m just here every day to be with them and to make sure they get a quality education,” said Hurst. “They are the heart of Gurganus, the children and the staff. I’m just here every day to make sure they have a safe, inviting environment to come to.”

Hurst said it is a concept that goes back to when she first started teaching under then principal Pat Williams.

“I learned from him that you just have to be not just a principal but you have to be a well-rounded leader for everybody,” she said. “That means being there for the kids, the teachers, the staff, the bus drivers, everybody.”

Williams, now retired, attended the ceremony Tuesday.

“I have known Debbie a long time,” said Williams. “This is a great accomplishment for not only Debbie, but a reflection of her staff and it is well deserved. She has worked extremely hard and this has been one of the top performing schools, if not the top performing school, for a long time, so well deserved.”

A school system committee selected Hurst, who is a resident of Carolina Pines.

“Both of the 2016 Principal of the Year candidates were exceptional,” said Brandy Popp, a member of the committee. “Both had a lot of experience and expertise at what they do, and Principal Hurst really just blew us away with her answers to the interview questions.

“She obviously cares a lot about her teachers and her students and that shows in the scores that Gurganus has gotten on their testing and things like that. She was really the best candidate for the position and she will do a great job as the 2016 Principal of the Year.”

School board member Kim Smith said Havelock has a lot of great principals and it is nice to see one of them recognized with this award.

“Debbie Hurst has done so much not only for this school and this system but for our community, for her church family and the community that she lives in,” said Smith. “She grew up teaching here. She started her teaching career here. Now she is the administrator here. It is a really awesome full circle to be here and celebrate her today.”

Hurst said new school administrators should live moment to moment and not take anything for granted.

“Take everything as the gift that it is because some days are going to be great and other days are going to be bad and you learn from every one of those experiences as a teacher,” said Hurst.