A shoplifting charge against Nancie Atwell – the Maine educator awarded $1 million last year when she won a prestigious international teaching prize – will be dropped if she stays out of trouble for two years, undergoes a psychological evaluation, completes 100 hours of community service and proves that she is donating the prize money to her own school.

The plea arrangement, called a deferred disposition, was formalized Monday in District Court in Wiscasset, and was approved by Assistant District Attorney Katie Hollstrom. Atwell was not present at the hearing, but was represented by Damariscotta attorney William Avantaggio.

Avantaggio said the prize money is disbursed in annual $100,000 increments, and Atwell has already forwarded this year’s payment to the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Edgecomb school she founded in 1990.

Atwell was the first recipient, in March 2015, of the Global Teacher Prize.

Although Atwell entered a guilty plea during Monday’s hearing, the court will only accept it if she breaks the conditions of the deal. If she is not accused of further crimes in the two-year period and satisfies the other conditions, the charge will be dismissed in June 2018.

Avantaggio was critical of the deal, but said it offered his client a known outcome without incurring more legal fees.


“This seemed to be the best way to see things through,” he said.

In a statement, Hollstrom declined to say why her office included the donation of the teacher’s prize as part of the deferred disposition, and referred those questions to Avantaggio, who did not return calls for comment after the hearing.

“The State does not believe this is an inappropriate resolution to this case,” Hollstrom said. “When reviewing a case and making a recommendation the State takes into account all known circumstances of the defendant and all known circumstances of the case.”

The school has ended its academic year, and no one could be reached to verify whether Atwell has donated the prize money as she had said she would. The school’s latest I-990 tax filing is for the 2013 tax year. A more recent filing that might include more current information on any large contributions to the nonprofit school was not immediately available.

A telephone message left for Atwell was not returned, and no one answered the door at her Southport home Monday.

Damariscotta police were called to the Renys department store in April after security recorded Atwell taking a $14.99 blouse from a rack, rolling it up and placing it in another bag and walking out of the store without paying for it.


Although Avantaggio said his client had a “viable defense,” the deferred disposition deal was the least costly option for her.

Avantaggio said what was captured on video was a clumsy attempt at exchanging another item from the store, but at the time she was summonsed, police said she never tried to return another item.

Reached immediately after she was issued the summons by Damariscotta police, Atwell and Head of School Matt MacDonald both said Atwell was innocent.

“I am not guilty,” Atwell told the Press Herald in April. “This is a misunderstanding. I have no further comment.”

Before founding the school in 1990, Atwell previously taught middle school English and writing in Boothbay Harbor.

The Global Teacher Prize was created by the Varkey Foundation, a philanthropic offshoot of Global Education Management Systems, a Dubai-based company and the largest operator of private elementary and secondary schools in the world. It has schools in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, North America and Europe.


Other finalists for the prize included educators from Indonesia, the United Kingdom, India, Haiti, Kenya, Cambodia, Afghanistan and two other teachers from the United States. The award was created to elevate the profession of teaching and improve education.

Atwell was chosen from a field of 5,000 nominees from 127 countries who were winnowed down to 50 in January 2015 and then to 10 finalists. After winning the award, she said she planned to donate the full amount to her school to fund scholarships, book purchases and building maintenance projects.

About 40 to 50 teachers from around the world go to the Edgecomb school each year to study the teaching methods of its 10 full- and part-time staff members. The student teachers’ tuition goes toward a scholarship fund for students who cannot afford the school’s annual $8,500 tuition. The school has an enrollment of 69 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Atwell has written nine books on teaching, one of which has sold more than 500,000 copies.

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