A renowned Southport teacher who three years ago won an inaugural international education prize worth $1 million received a four-month suspended jail sentence in connection with a series of shoplifting incidents.

Monday’s sentencing in Wiscasset culminates a lengthy legal case involving Nancie Atwell, 67, who avoided jail time but must complete 250 hours of community service and submit to one year of administrative release, which is similar to probation.

Lincoln County Assistant District Attorney Katherine MacRae had recommended seven days in jail, but District Court Judge Paul Mathews cited Atwell’s long service to the community, as well as her ongoing mental health struggles, in suspending her entire sentence.

During the court hearing, Atwell admitted to her crimes and said therapy had revealed a previously undiagnosed mental illness, a version of bipolar disorder, that factored into her compulsion to shoplift. She also said she has struggled with alcoholism.

In all, Atwell pleaded guilty to six counts of shoplifting, all of which came after she had been given a deferred disposition for a previous shoplifting incident.

“It’s been more than a year since I felt the urge to shoplift, or to drink alcohol,” Atwell told the court, according to NewsCenter Maine. “I’m committed to never drinking and never shoplifting again. I’m also committed to psychotherapy and medication that have given me my life back. I’m committed to the work of being well and doing good in the world.”


Nancie Atwell was awarded $1 million when she won a prestigious international teaching prize in 2015.

Atwell’s attorney, Richard Berne, said he was pleased with the resolution and the sensitivity that Mathews showed Atwell.

MacRae, though, said she believed incarceration would have been appropriate.

Atwell had been teaching middle school English for about a decade when she founded the Center for Teaching and Learning in the town of Edgecomb in 1990. The school is a private demonstration elementary and middle school, where teachers from all over the country come and learn techniques.

Atwell also has written several books about teaching, including a manual called “In the Middle,” which has sold more than 500,000 copies and made her a sought-after educational speaker all over the world.

In 2015, she was honored with the first-ever Global Teacher Prize, 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.

The foundation dubbed the prize the “Nobel Prize for Teaching,” hoping that it might do for education what the Nobel has done for science, literature and peace.


Atwell was chosen from a field of 5,000 nominees in 127 countries. She donated the entire $1 million prize money to the school she founded.

One year after winning the prize, Atwell was caught shoplifting a shirt from Renys in Damariscotta. She pleaded guilty in June 2016 and received a deferred disposition that stipulated the charge would be dropped if she committed no new crimes over the following two years.

However, between August and October of 2017, Atwell was caught shoplifting at another store, Ames True Value in Wiscasset, on six different occasions.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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