Most parents remember the day they dropped their child off for the first day of kindergarten.

Most parents remember the day they dropped their child off for the first day of kindergarten. Today, most parents have the cell phone video and pictures to mark the occasion.

When my wife and I dropped our daughter off for her first day, we were more than a little apprehensive. I’m sure we felt like a lot of parents, but our daughter was especially shy and quiet, much like I was when I was that age. Today, I hardly resemble the shy kid that I was, and my daughter – now a junior at Appalachian State – is the same way as an active member in her sorority.

Today, the little girl who was so shy as a kindergartener wants to be an elementary school teacher. She would be wise to follow the lead of Debbie Hurst.

Hurst is now the principal at W.J. Gurganus Elementary School, the same school where my daughter attended. On Tuesday, Hurst was named the Craven County Schools Principal of the Year.

I’ve known Hurst ever since those early days of my daughter’s education at Gurganus in the early 2000s. The principal at the time, Pat Williams, recruited me for the Parent-Teacher Organization board, so I had the chance to meet many of the great teachers at the school, and Hurst was one of those.

As a side note, I can’t thank Pat Williams enough for asking me to serve on the board. It was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I was able to get involved, and I learned a lot about the dedication of teachers, their efforts to teach youth and the love they truly have for children.

Hurst taught fifth grade when my daughter attended Gurganus, and her students were always well-behaved and polite. And through all the PTO activities we worked together, I could tell how much she cared about the students.

And when she transitioned from the classroom to an administrator’s role as an assistant principal and then a principal, I had the chance as a journalist to cover stories at Gurganus. She always enjoys talking about the accomplishments of the students but always deflects credit to the staff of teachers and to the children.

So, it was no surprise that she gave credit Tuesday to the staff and the students when she was selected as the Principal of the Year.

“The children make the school. I’m just here every day to be with them and to make sure they get a quality education,” Hurst said. “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.”

But, the staff and the students take direction from a leader, and Hurst is definitely one of those.

“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 Kim Smith, a Craven County Board of Education member who attended Tuesday’s ceremony. “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.”

Gurganus students have consistently performed better in reading and math scores than county and state averages, and for the 2014-15 school year, the school received an overall grade of B from the state.

“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,” Brandy Popp, a member of the committee that selected Hurst said. “She was really the best candidate for the position and she will do a great job as the 2016 Principal of the Year.”

And while it’s easy to measure scores and grades, what’s hard to measure is a person’s heart. Hurst has her heart in the right place. She has dedicated her life to students and to making them better.

“I have to keep the children first,” Hurst said. “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.”

There’s no way parents can lose the apprehension they feel when dropping their children off at school. However, they can feel a lot less of it when dropping their children off with Hurst at Gurganus Elementary School. Her recognition as Principal of the Year is truly well deserved.

Ken Buday is the editor and general manager of the Havelock News. He can be reached at 635-5673 or by email at