Natalie Uhriniak was named Elementary Teacher of the Year among Leading Edge's six campuses. Photo by Michelle Chance

A longtime employee of Leading Edge Academy in Maricopa was recently awarded “Elementary Teacher of the Year” out of six campuses in the charter school district.

Third grade teacher Natalie Uhriniak said she did not expect to hear her name called during an awards ceremony at a district gathering over the summer.

“I was completely taken by surprise, I had no clue that I was even nominated,” Uhriniak said.

However, her designation comes as no shock to school administration.

“She leads by example and she has high expectations for her students,” Principal Mat Reese said.

For the past five years, Reese said, Uhriniak’s students have led the school in math and reading scores on state exams.

Uhriniak began her teaching career at the Mountain View campus in Queen Creek 10 years ago where Reese was the principal at the time.

“I knew that she was going to come in to her new job and work hard to be successful and I always put her in a position that would be successful,” Reese said.

She followed Reese to the Maricopa campus a few years later.

As a teenager, Uhriniak worked as a swim coach and instructor. Reese said he saw a character trait indicative of that kind of athlete during their first interview.

“Swimmers need to get up at 4 a.m. and go to the pool. I knew she had something I wanted: Work ethic,” Reese said.

Watching children progress through the swim season and through the school year is what Uhriniak said has always inspired her most.

“I compare teaching to instructing because they’re very similar,” Uhriniak said. “They come in, and then leave a completely different person, regardless of what age.”

Uhriniak was nominated for teacher of the year by her peers and a district committee made the selection.

“I felt humble that after all these years I was being recognized and after all that hard work, dedication, and hours spent after school and before school was finally being looked at,” she said.