NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — The Defense Department school system has named Maria Dee-Buchwald, a former special education teacher, the assistant principal of the year for middle and high schools worldwide.

Dee-Buchwald has been the assistant principal at Heidelberg Middle School for the last six years and has helped to lead the school in a major overhaul of its academic structure.

The honor came as a surprise to the veteran educator.

“I was thinking that if I haven’t heard — because so long had gone by, even past the deadline when they were going to announce it — I figured somebody else had been notified,” she said. “I was almost on the downside thinking, ‘Hmm, it’s not going to be me.”

She credited the principal and the teachers at the school for helping her to achieve the top award. The school recently revamped its academic structure, giving teachers greater latitude to design their lesson plans and to shape them toward the skill levels of their students. Dee-Buchwald said the model the middle school has used is now becoming the standard for middle schools throughout the European region.

Dee-Buchwald previously served as a special education teacher at Heidelberg High School before taking her current post. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Illinois State University and a Master of Science degree in education administration from Western Illinois University.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals McDonald’s and Virco Corporations sponsor the Middle/High School Assistant Principal of the Year recognition program. It annually recognizes outstanding leadership.

Dee-Buchwald will compete with other assistant principals from across the United States for national assistant principal of the year honors.

She is married and has two children.

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