One Alma administrator received a welcome surprise Wednesday during what she thought was an impromptu tornado drill.

Suzy Ferguson, assistant principal at Alma Intermediate School, was greeted by shouts and screams of congratulations as she entered the school’s saferoom Wednesday afternoon. Her shocked smile was quickly replaced by happy tears as her students and staff continued to cheer for several minutes.

"I can’t believe this," Ferguson said repeatedly as she was handed flowers and looked around the packed room.

Alma Intermediate Principal Jim Warnock had gathered the students and personnel on the sly to celebrate Ferguson’s being named 2013 Assistant Principal of the Year by the Arkansas Association of Elementary School Principals.

After being called to the administration building Wednesday, Ferguson returned to find the school empty. She was taken completely by surprise when she entered the saferoom.

"I wasn’t expecting this at all - this is almost more than my heart knows what to do with," Ferguson said during the small speech she gave.

This award is given each year to an assistant principal who is respected by students, colleagues, parents and the community at-large; shows a strong commitment to her professional growth; shows strong educational leadership by setting high expectations for school staff and students; and maintains an orderly, purposeful learning environment, according to the AAEA.

Ferguson, who has been assistant principal at the school for 15 years, was thankful and humbled by the award, she said.

"This is just a bonus," Ferguson told the crowd. "Ya’ll are certainly a prize to have - I love ya."

Chairs facing a podium at the front of the room held representatives from the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators including Richard Abernathy, AAEA executive director; Doug Ask, director of professional development; and Michelle Hostetler, director of communications.

Abernathy, who presented to award to Ferguson, said he knows her to be organized, hard working and someone who didn’t shirk even her volunteer responsibilities.

"Looking at the application with what the staff and other teachers thought of her, she’s obviously highly regarded in Alma," Abernathy said after the award ceremony.

Comments from fellow administrators in her application called her "professional" and "child-oriented." Warnock gives her credit for his own success, citing her "ability to make vision a reality."

Also attending the ceremony were Ferguson’s husband David and their three daughters, and her parents Billy and Betty Cole.

During her speech, Ferguson thanked her family for supporting her in her career and acknowledged her parents, asserting that it was they that "instilled in me the love I give to you every day."

Warnock nominated Ferguson for the award, and said he practically had to force her to fill out the application.

"She definitely deserves this recognition," Warnock said. "I’m very proud of the work she does."

Not only is Ferguson a good building manager and instructional leader, but she designs the work at the school around the needs of the students, Warnock said.

Ferguson feels she is unworthy of such an honor, she said.

"So many of my peers out there are working equally hard, but it’s a job that you do because you love it," Ferguson said.