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Alabama Teacher of the Year Resigns– The Backstory, Part II

On November 23, 2015, I began a series of posts about Ann Marie Corgill, the 2014-15 Alabama Teacher of the Year who resigned from Birmingham City Public Schools effective October 30, 2015. Corgill’s resignation was prompted by notification from the state department of education that the state did not consider her certified to teach fifth grade.

Of course, there is more to the story than a single event leading to a career teacher’s resignation. In this post, I offer more details from Corgill’s story based upon our four-hour interview on November 20, 2015.

ann-marie-corgill-4-e1448507006604  Ann Marie Corgill

Let us go back to the beginning of the 2015-16 school year and Corgill’s decision to leave the affluent Mountain Brook school system for an opportunity to teach at the decidedly non-affluent Birmingham City schools.

(Note: Most of this post is comprised of Corgill’s words, which are indented. My questions and comments are in quotation marks and are not indented.)  Corgill begins:

I had been talking all year (2014-15) about this tug in my heart to not stay in Mountain Brook because, not because it wasn’t a good place, not because I hadn’t learned a lot, but because it was very comfortable….

My reason [for leaving the comfort of Mountain Brook] was, I want to continue to be a learner and a teacher.

“You got too comfortable there?”

It was easy. It was easy, and I felt myself losing ground (intellectually), and maybe even socially, emotionally.

“Were you stagnating?”

I felt like I could easily do that. … But, I had that tug in my heart to go to a place that was very different from anywhere I’d been to, and I’d learned about the Woodlawn Innovation Network. I’d learned that, this [Birmingham City] wasn’t Mountain Brook. And it would be challenging. And it would be a way for me to learn, and grow, and help children the best way I knew how. …

This is my decision: I decided to move to Birmingham City, which is a completely different population with completely different challenges, and I wanted to be a part of it. …I had heard that they were doing project-based learning; [I’m] very interested in that.

I wanted to jump in, try something new, but I knew that I wanted to be in primary. I wanted to try the things I had written in my book. I wanted to get back to that age that I loved. So, I got hired in second grade.

It was a challenge. It was very different beginning to the year.

“Because these kids, you had said, were 99 percent free and reduced lunch?”

Yes. So, I guess the big thing that bothers me about where we are in Alabama, where we are in education, [is that] it’s like we’re still in the 1960s. I go from all white, no free lunch in Mountain Brook to all black, 99 percent or 100 percent free lunch in Birmingham City. Something’s wrong with that picture.

“In Birmingham City, at the school you were at, what percentage of students were black, and what percentage of teachers were black? Do you know?”

I know… there were very few white students… three, four, five? The staff was mixed… not quite half [white, half black]; more black teachers. …

I spent all summer getting that classroom ready. I spent a thousand dollars because, in my head, I wanted to give these kids who possibly hadn’t had opportunities like this, [who did not] have the books that they needed, [who did not] have the materials, I wanted them to have that in that classroom when they entered that room. So, I did a whole lot of work and a whole lot of spending to get it the way I wanted it to be.

And I had 22 second graders… and it was academically and socially [a] challenge because… lots of them have challenging home lives. They’ve seen and done things and heard things that any 7- or 8-year-old child doesn’t deserve to have happen to them… in their entire life. That was sad to me, but I felt like I could be a light for them, especially because I think social-emotional development is so important. I felt like this would be my opportunity to give these younger children that solid, trusting… routine, predictable environment. … If anything, their lives outside of school were not predictable or routine.

I wanted them to know they could count on me [to be there] for them. I was going to be there every day. We were going to work hard… little baby steps. They came in, not at second grade level, so there was a lot of academic catch up, but I also knew could do that until we got the social [norms for the classroom established]. … I felt like that had to happen before we could really dig in to deep academic work.

It was messy and chaotic because when you’re trying to teach children to be independent and think for themselves, when you’re seven and have never done that or been allowed to do that [before], it doesn’t look perfect. So, there was a lot of [kids] screaming, and rolling around, and [disruptive] behavior in the hallway. It was not the army, everybody’s-on-the-third-square-and-our-hands-are-by-our-sides-nobody’s-talking. We were moving around and making noise, and I wasn’t interfering at every juncture to say, “Stop it! Get in line!”

“There are some who say you should have been, that [to] this No Excuses crowd, the way to teach these kids social skills is you give them expectations and you teach them order, and that’s the only way they can learn. What’s your thoughts?”

I disagree, respectfully disagree with that, because if I am in control of their behavior, then they will never learn to be in control of it themselves. So, I can get control, and I can get them quiet. And I can show them what expect as a teacher– but that’s not teaching them any self-management whatsoever.

“So you’re saying that this chaos… what looks chaotic can be productive?”

Absolutely. Not always, but a lot of it has to look chaotic so that they can get to the place that they’re working toward.

“That their owning their own social bearing?”

Yes. Their owning it. They’re living it, and every five seconds, I’m not putting somebody in a corner or pulling them out at recess because they were hitting. I was spending so much time having social conversation, pulling kids together who were trying to problem-solve: “What did you do differently? How did that make you feel? What are we going to try next time?” And that takes time. And it can’t happen overnight– especially if they’ve never had that opportunity. And I know for a fact these kids have been told what to do. But telling is not teaching. Modeling and letting the mess happen [is critical] because until there’s a problem we cannot solve it.

“You were only in this classroom until Labor Day. Do you believe you had established a relationship with these kids and a trust by then?”

[Corgill is obviously moved.] I have a stack of letters that they wrote me. I had something (some effect), I know for a fact. And when they’re in tears and hanging on my leg, saying, “Please don’t leave,” something connected.

“By that time, how long had you had them?”

Since August 5th.

“So, a month?”

One month. And the Thursday before Labor Day, my principal came to the room, and I learned since that time [that] the fifth grade teacher whose place I took– they (the administration) knew that long before the Thursday before Labor Day that she was leaving.

So, the decision was to move me from second grade to fifth grade because this fifth-grade teacher was going to be gone on Tuesday [after Labor Day] and I should start teaching fifth grade on Tuesday.

“The principal came and told you that?”

At 11:15 on Thursday, the Thursday before Labor Day. So, I was in shock…. I had never taught fifth grade before, don’t want to teach fifth grade. Even was offered to teach fifth grade at my old school, at Cherokee Bend (Mountain Brook), and I said, “No. I don’t want to teach fifth grade. I want to go back to primary.”

So, to hear, “I need you to teach fifth grade,” or, “You are teaching”– it wasn’t a question. It was a statement.

Didn’t see the principal on Friday. Sent her a text message saying, “Just want to clarify that this is true because I’m making plans for Labor Day….”

I get a text from my principal Saturday morning: “Yes. The decision is final. You will be moving, but instead of Tuesday, you will start on Wednesday. But you can come up Monday and start to pack if you want. I’ll be here.”

I went to school on Monday. She said, “Sorry. You can’t really do anything because [the teacher who is leaving] is not here, and she’s done nothing.” I go down to her room, and it looked like a tornado hit it. Nothing packed.

So.  I say goodbye to my second graders on Tuesday– teach them and say goodbye to them. I pack up as much as I can Tuesday night.

“Your students found out on Tuesday?”


“They found out, ‘My teacher’s not coming back tomorrow’?”

Yes. On Tuesday. Yes.

I find out that a first-grade teacher is being moved to my class, and they (administration) are splitting that first grade teacher’s kids among the other first grades– instead of moving that first-grade teacher to fifth grade and not disrupting us at all. She moved to my class, with my children, and I moved to fifth grade.

“Did they [take the initiative to] tell you why they made that decision?”

No, they did not.

“So, they didn’t say, ‘It was a certification issue. She’s not certified.'”


“Okay. They just didn’t tell you [or give a full explanation regarding your move to fifth grade]?”

I point-blank asked her (the principal). I said, “Did you move me to fifth grade because you didn’t think I was doing a good job in second grade?”

And she looked at me and said, “Well, there were some issues that I didn’t think I could help you with or help the children with.” And I was so upset at that point, I didn’t even go into it. [Principal continues]: “And, the reason I’m moving you to fifth because you, along with one other teacher, are the only two people in this building who are certified to do this.”

“She said that to you?”

She said that to me. She said, “This teacher’s not going because she’s had knee replacement surgery, and we’re on the second floor.”

“So, you’re going.”

So, I’m going because I need a job. Every night that week, I moved and packed a little bit more. I just taught in the room as it was, filthy.

“Did the students that you went to teach, the fifth graders, know that their teacher was leaving?”

They did. I don’t know how long they had known. Longer than my [second grade] kids knew.

“Do you think your second grade kids were traumatized by your departure?”

I think we were all traumatized.

“What about the fifth grade kids? Do you think they were traumatized?”

They were traumatized, too, because they’re losing a teacher. They’re an orphaned class. Now there’s this teacher– this new, white teacher from down the hall, that they don’t know. And they said to me, “We don’t like white people.” And I know that they didn’t come up with that on their own. …

“Do you think your fifth graders said that to you because they were hurt to have lost their teacher?”

I think they were saying that, and continued to say that, because they were angry. They were mourning the loss. They were completely disrupted.

Now, my second graders got a very different teacher than me. They got a teacher who kept them in line and controlled them,

So, we’re all a mess. The kids in fifth grade are angry. The kids in second grade are sad and scared because they have a teacher now who gets them in control. They’re scared. They’re doing what she says, and they are not opening their mouths. A very different style from me. … It is not the way that I’m ever going to teach children, and it’s not the way that I’m going to teach those fifth grade students. But they had experienced for five years nothing like I was trying to do.

“The fifth graders?”

The fifth graders. And they fought. They pushed very button. They refused to work. They were angry. It was like doing battle every day. But I knew– I knew– the root of it. And it was not about me. It’s about the life they’re having to struggle through to survive.

They’re surviving. They’re in survival mode. Everybody in their life– they can’t trust anything. How do they know [that they can trust me]?

I can’t… I’ve got to do this. And the lady next door, who is an adorable, wonderful lady retiring after 28 years– was with me every morning. She would pray with me. She was like, “You are fine. This school needs you. These kids need you. I can tell that they’re starting to realize that you’re here for them.” And she would say that to me every day: “I can tell. I can tell.”

And then I would have friends come to visit [and say of my fifth graders]: “They like you. They want to know where you are when you’re gone.” For me, it was hard to see.

But as the month goes on, just like second grade, I start to see glimmers of hope. Not every day is great, but I’m thinking, “Wow. Can you imagine what this is going to be like at the end of the year? What a transformational year for me and for these children? What a story to tell.”

‘Meanwhile, you’re not getting a paycheck.”

I didn’t know that. We don’t get paid the first month. That’s been the case in Alabama since I’ve been a teacher: When you get hired in a new system, you don’t get a paycheck the first month. They give you that check when you leave the system. So I got my first Mountain Brook check in August of this year… because I left Mountain Brook. So I was fine in August.

And then September comes, and I’m thinking I’m fine because I got a $43 workshop payment direct deposited [which means the direct deposit from Birmingham City is set up correctly].

I pay all of my bills online. Everything is debited automatically every month.

September 30th comes. … I didn’t get a pay stub today. … I call my bank, and there’s no deposit. This is on a Friday. I call the human resources office at the district, and they have no idea why this is happening. No clue. Can answer no questions. So, they cut a check that day, but they were gone before I could get to the board [because I was teaching].

I go Monday to get the check, [and request a letter to resolve the resulting credit issues, including multiple overdraft fees]. … I went to the board four times. I have yet to see that letter.

In the meantime, I …have to mail that check home to the bank because there’s not a branch in Birmingham. Check gets lost in the mail. …

A week later, I call the board again and say, “…I need you to stop payment on that check. It never arrived at my bank.” … So, they cut me another check, and it took me three [visits] to get that check [because the director of payroll was not available].

On October 23, I get [the check] because my dad called. I finally said, “All right. You’re a man. Somebody’s going to listen to you. Call up, and you talk to the director of payroll, and that I need the letter… to the creditors… and the check.”

I get the check…. I drive home that weekend to give the check to the bank in person.

And that Saturday (October 24, 2015), I get an email from the district saying I’m not “highly qualified” to teach fifth grade and I need to present all of my documentation on Monday.

And I am almost at the end of my rope at this point.

…Number one, I didn’t want to go to fifth grade. Number two, I’m trying my best, and now, you’re telling me I’m not certified to teach it? I have National Board certification, I have a masters, I’ve written a book, I’m a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, I’m Alabama Teacher of the Year. What else do you need, people?

I did it [switched to fifth grade] because you told me to.

I bring all of my [documents to my school and am told], “You need to call the state department.”

I called the certification office of the state department on Monday (October 26, 2015), when in fact, it is true that National Board certification does not count for being “highly qualified” in Alabama.

So, my only options are to go back to another second grade classroom or take two Praxis tests, fill out the form an pay the fee, a couple hundred dollars.

“Did they offer you a provisional [certificate] for a year?”

No. I was never offered a provisional anything. My options were, I could go back to second grade…

“Did your principal offer you that?”

No. The superintendent offered that. My principal never offered me that– never offered me a thing.

“What second grade were you going to go back to?… So, this wasn’t the same second grade…?”

No, no, no. This would be the third group of children in nine weeks. … And this is another thing: The day that it hit the news (Thursday, October 29, 2015), I’m teaching [unaware of the news story resulting from the leak about my resignation letter submitted Tuesday, October 27, 2015, effective Friday, October 30,2015], and a colleague comes up and looks at me and says, “What’s going on? I’m here to cover your class. There are four people from the board downstairs who need to meet with you.” [Note: Three individuals came to meet with Corgill, and the superintendent was also involved on speakerphone.]

I said, “What are you talking about?”

They called a meeting… to try to convince me not to resign.

“So, the superintendent tells you that you can take a second grade. [Has anyone from the board contacted you] before this?”

I hear from no one [from the board]. [Note: One individual from human resources called Corgill on Wednesday to initiate arranging a meeting between Corgill and her principal for 2 p.m. on the Thursday that the published the story (11:30 a.m.). On Wednesday, Corgill agreed to the 2 p.m. meeting for Thursday. Thus, this earlier meeting initiated by the board and superintendent appears to have been prompted by contact from Moreover, Corgill later found out that her principal had been contacted by before the story broke.]

“[To recap], after you have the conversation Monday afternoon with the state, you write the [resignation] letter; Tuesday morning, [hand it to your principal; Tuesday afternoon, deliver it to the board]. You didn’t teach Tuesday?”

I did teach Tuesday. … I said [in the letter that my resignation would be] effective Friday. … Friday was a teacher workday, [and I had been sick, so I arranged with my principal to stay home]. …

I told [the administrators who asked me to reconsider resigning] that I would need the weekend after they bombarded me [with pleas to reconsider resigning].

I decided Sunday night (November 01, 2015), and I wrote them all (principal, superintendent, and board) and said, “My resignation stands, effective–” I was going to give her (the principal) the week so that she could find somebody.

She wrote me back and said, “It’s best that you not show up,” that, “we had news reporters calling. We don’t need any more drama for the kids or the teachers.”

“So, you just disappear?”


“They (Corgill’s students) don’t know where you are?”

[On Thursday, when the story broke while the kids were still in school], when I came back from that meeting downstairs, the kids were like, “Where have you been?”

I said, “There’s some issue with my certification. They’re telling me that I’m not certified to teach you guys now.”

So [on Monday, November 02, 2015], I just don’t show up. I don’t get to tell them goodbye. Nothing.

I learned from Corgill that there were rumors that she could not handle teaching in Birmingham City and decided to resign for that reason. I was aware of those rumors even in Louisiana, and it was such rumors that prompted me to seek an interview with Corgill.

The details of Corgill’s story do not support rumors that she was seeking a reason to leave Birmingham City.

Another issue concerns the timing of the four administrators showing up to plead with Corgill to stay. It seems that the publicity from Corgill’s leaked resignation letter prompted them to try to save face. Corgill told me that the superintendent even offered to pay the fees associated with her certification to teach fifth grade, but she had just had enough.

I refuse to be among those who fault her for that.

As a post script to this entry, let me note that on Corgill’s termination document, the grade level she was supposedly teaching at the time of termination is listed as “second grade”– which means that either the principal or the district (or both) might be trying to cover themselves for moving her to a fifth grade classroom (not her choice nor her desire)– and which means (ironically) that according to that official document, she was not teaching outside of her state certification area when she terminated her employment (click image to enlarge):

Ann Marie Corgill HR doc

Corgill’s Personnel Action Form has her listed as a second grade teacher

And the irony continues:

Birmingham City requested that Corgill leave “valuable feedback” about her experience as an employee (click image to enlarge):

Ann Marie Corgill HR doc 2

Stay tuned for Part III: Becoming Alabama Teacher of the Year.


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Happy Thanksgiving 2015, Y’all.

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

–Proverbs 17:22 (MSG)

On December 06, 2015, my mother turns 70. I am thankful to have her alive and well for these past ten years. She was missing for a week in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, and I thank God often that she did not die.

So much about my mother makes me smile. Months ago, I spoke with my sisters about what we might do for my mother’s 70th birthday. However, I already knew that a party, or trip, or expensive jewelry were not what she would prefer.

My mother prefers shopping. So, earlier this week, I took her shopping for her birthday at perhaps her favorite store.

Home Depot.

She enjoyed herself. I know so because I watched her enthusiastically walk the aisles and examine the endless tools and materials.

And who else’s mother sighs contentedly at the scent of fresh cut lumber?

You got me on that one.

In the end, I bought my mother a mitre saw, a hammer, and two bolt cutters. (The large bolt cutter was a must-have, but one never knows when one might need to cut smaller bolts, as well. Thus, it is best to be prepared.) Add to that list a gift card for a future paint purchase.

Happy birthday, Mama.

So, there’s one story of thanks.

I’ll go for a second one:

I had two primary goals this past summer. One was to write the body of my third book, this one on school choice. I am happy to say that it is with the publisher.

My second goal was to lose some weight. I am an active person, but I also like to eat, and the eating was in the lead.

Around July 4th, I realized that summer was almost over for me and I hadn’t focused on the weight loss. No problem. I still had three weeks to get started.

What sealed the deal for me was that I did not feel like clothes shopping for the upcoming school year. I reminded myself that if I lost weight, I could shop in my own closet.

Hook baited.

Over the next three months, I dropped 20 pounds, and I continue to enjoy surprising myself as I indeed continue to shop in my own closet. So, there is notably less of me now, and for this, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.


La. Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards on Charters and Vouchers

On November 23, 2015, Louisiana Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards offered his first public address since being elected two days prior, on November 21, 2015.

Edwards spoke at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) convention in Lake Charles. Below is the video of Edwards’ speech:

In his speech, Edwards spoke of his position on vouchers and charters. Edwards’ remarks about school choice are transcribed below (from around the 5:08 mark to the 8:31 mark in the video above):

I believe in local control of education. And, by the way, that used to be a conservative value: to have local control over local tax dollars and how kids were educated. Because this is the risk we run: If we have parents and voters– taxpayers– who cannot hold their school boards accountable for how children are educated and how dollars are spent, it’s only a matter of time before they stop renewing taxes and voting new taxes for education. And then we’re all messed up. And so, we’ve got to stop substituting the opinion of the BESE board in Baton Rouge for school boards at the local level when those school districts are performing well under our own accountability system.

So, when you hear– because it was in the Advocate today, and it was wrong– when you hear that John Bel Edwards wants to ban charter schools– that’s not true. I have not proposed anything that affects, really, an existing charter school. But in those districts that perform well under our accountability system, the final decision as to whether a new charter opens ought to rest with that school board. It’s just that simple.

And then you hear, “Well, John Bel Edwards is against the voucher program.” Guess what? I didn’t think that it was a wise policy, but I knew that it was an unconstitutional bill. I voted for it–I’m sorry– I voted against it because it was unconstitutional. I said so at the time. I see a lawyer over here who helped prove that it was unconstitutional. But as I go into office, I don’t have a goal to take that voucher program off the books completely, but we are going to conform it to its stated purpose. Its stated purpose was to provide a choice to parents whose kids were trapped in failing schools.

A “C” school is not a failing school.

And never mind the “C” schools. We have children who are taking vouchers to go to voucher schools that we know next to nothing about, and, by the way, some of the absolute worst-performing schools in the state of Louisiana are voucher schools. But we have kids who live across the street from “A”-rated elementary schools who are staring kindergarten who are going to a voucher school. That is not a kid who is trapped in a failing school, either.

And so, we’re going to stop diverting resources that are needed away from our traditional public schools for an unproven voucher scheme that doesn’t make sense to me. Now, we’re not going to end the voucher program, but we’re going to make it make sense. And we’re going to make sure that there’s transparency and accountability on those schools so that parents not just have a choice, but let’s give them an informed choice so that they know exactly what it is that they’re doing if the choose for their child not to go to that local school that’s a traditional public school, but they want to send them to a voucher school.

I’m not about ending choice, but I am about informed choice. I’m about making sure that the balance is right. That’s where I’m at with respect to these things.

Based on Edwards’ remarks above, he does not belong to the corporate reform set that promotes vouchers and charters as a favored, unaccountable replacement for traditional public schools. Edwards is clearly opposed to using money earmarked for traditional public schools to finance a voucher program. Also, Edwards will oppose BESE’s efforts to bypass local school boards in order to expand the charter school presence in Louisiana.

Even as Edwards was offering his speech to LFT, John White was on a conference call with BESE members discussing expansion of charters in Baton Rouge with the intent to bypass the local school board. This agenda item is expected to pass when voted on by BESE in its December 2015 meeting. The exact way that Edwards plans to counter such efforts from BESE is unclear, but as governor, Edwards has notable influence over BESE’s budget and LDOE’s contracts– which means he has fantastic leverage.

As to Edwards’ remarks about “failing schools,” he should be aware that White has been manipulating the school letter grades for years. White has inflated Louisiana’s school letter grades and should be expected to deflate those school letter grades according to how doing so best serves his corporate reform agenda– an agenda that surely includes undermining the efforts and reputation of a governor who wants him gone. Calling a school “failing” based upon a letter grade system that is almost perfectly correlated with free lunch status (assuming that the calculations have not been tampered with) is simply wrong on its face. I hope that Edwards comes to realize as much.

Under Edwards, it seems that school choice in Louisiana is finally going to experience some long-overdue attention from a governor not overtly biased toward charters and vouchers. This is good.

donkey on a rope


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

John White’s Employment Contract

John White was employed as Louisiana state superintendent by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) board elected in 2011 and serving from January 2012 to December 2015.

john-white-5-e1448421551573  John White

The 2012-15 BESE board was White’s employer and could only offer White a contract that lasted as long as the 2012-15 BESE board was active.

To read White’s employment contract, click here: Superintendent’s_contract

In order for the 2016-20 BESE board to offer White a new contract, it would need two-thirds vote of the total membership of the board (at least 8 of the 11 BESE members). However, it is not likely that 8 BESE members will vote to renew White’s contract, which would make White a month-to-month employee at the same salary as delineated in the original contract (which is $275,000 annually as the 2012 base, with a possible 6 percent raise– $16,500– each year).

To read about the office of Louisiana state superintendent, including terms of appointment and continued employment, see page 3 of this Title 28 excerpt.

White gets to remain as state superintendent until the 2016-20 BESE board appoints his successor. Since the majority of the 2016-20 BESE board appears at this time to have no intention of offering a contract to any individual endorsed by Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards, it remains to be seen what will happen, including what the governor-elect might do to prompt BESE to endorse his choice for next state superintendent.

However, even as I write this, I realize that White is feeling the pressure. Not only is he no longer the governor’s golden boy; he now faces a governor with whom he shares no secrets and who has publicly singled him out for impending departure.

As BESE member Jane Smith mentioned when we were discussing this post:

No matter the composition of BESE, never underestimate the power of a newly-elected governor. 

john white 4


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Alabama Teacher of the Year Resigns: The Backstory, Part I

On November 20, 2015, I drove from southern Louisiana to central Alabama in order to extensively interview Ann Marie Corgill, the 2014-15 Alabama Teacher of the Year who abruptly resigned on October 30, 2015.

The interview lasted over four hours. I decided to seek a face-to-face interview because I knew I would be asking some pointed questions, and I thought it best to do so in person.

Corgill has an intriguing story to tell, and in a series of posts, I intend to tell it, including information on Corgill’s professional history as a public school teacher in both Alabama and New York; her story about becoming Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, and the detailed circumstances surrounding her resignation, including the media attention.

For this first post, I focus on the how her story became national news.

Indeed, being the one to break the news of the sudden, unexpected departure of a state teacher of the year is quite a scoop.

Let me begin with October 31, 2015, the day that I first read about the abrupt resignation of Alabama’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year, Ann Marie Corgill in the New York Daily News.

The Daily News article appeared to draw all of its information from this October 29, 2015, article that, in turn, draws most of its information from Corgill’s resignation letter.

Furthermore, the article also notes that Corgill “was not immediately available to comment Thursday morning [October 29, 2015].” Still, when I first read the article, I assumed that had been in touch with Corgill in order to receive a copy of the resignation from her. After all, it was Corgill’s resignation, so it seemed logical that if the media had been alerted and had a copy of the resignation letter, then it must have been Corgill who provided it.

This was not the case. In fact, when the story broke, Corgill was still in discussions with her district regarding her possibly continuing to teach. Their offer to her was to start with a fresh group of students in second grade (which would have been her third new beginning within a single grading period) or complete state-approved coursework and pay hundreds of dollars in fees to take the Praxis certification test to continue teaching the fifth grade that she did not request to teach but was told on the Thursday before Labor Day that she would be teaching the coming Tuesday.

There was no offer for a temporary, emergency certification so that she might finish the year with the fifth grade she was just getting settled into teaching– her second group of students for that school year. Still, Corgill agreed to consider what appears a desperate Birmingham City Schools administrative offer.

Corgill heard from the state via email on Monday, October 26, 2015, that they considered her not certified to teach fifth grade.

She also made a phone call to get this email explained and spoke with two people in the certification department who told her that being Nationally Board Certified in the grade she was teaching wouldn’t certify her to teach fifth grade or make her “highly qualified” to teach that grade.

She taught Monday and did not have a chance to communicate with the state until Monday afternoon because she was teaching; drafted the resignation letter Monday night and submitted it to her principal Tuesday morning, and returned to her classroom to teach.  Corgill had not yet told her students she was resigning.

As Corgill told me, “I kept that [the certification issue that led to my resignation] to myself because I did not want them to think that I was giving up on them because there we go again, here’s another person in our life who’s just going to leave us. And that has haunted me since.”

I asked Corgill if her students were aware of the circumstances surrounding her departure.

“They know every single thing. And the reason they know is because I told them the truth. No one else did. And we set up a Kid Blog account the week before I resigned [as part of our class activities], and we’ve blogged every single day….”

More about the Kid Blog to come in future posts.

I then asked Corgill about a comment referencing included in her goodbye letter to her students. I noted that I understand more the context of her reference because did not contact Corgill for her detailed story.

I asked her if any news outlet had interviewed her about her situation. Corgill notes that Linda White of NBC-13 is “followed through with telling the story [of my resignation] with me in person by asking me questions,” as did Matt Murphy, a Birmingham radio talk show host, who invited her on for one of his shows: “I was able to tell my side of the story that hour together.  The radio interview was held November 5th.”

I continued, “So, did a story…. When I wrote my first piece about your story… I gave credit, and I said what said at the end of their piece, that they would be following the story. produced its story without first contacting Corgill, and its follow-up was the result of her initiating contact, not More on this to come.

I continued, “So, then, I saw in EdWeek, they did a spread the day that I contacted you and asked about interviewing you (November 10, 2015), but they did not contact you prior to writing that piece?”

Corgill noted, “There was a Twitter message from the guy who interviewed me when I was Teacher of the Year, and I don’t know if he’s the one that wrote the article in EdWeek, but he asked to speak to me at some point. He didn’t give me a time frame or anything. …I had no idea that EdWeek piece was [definitely] coming out.”

Corgill later sent me a copy of the Twitter message (see below) and added, “Unlike, he (Brenneman of EdWeek) did try to contact me, and the Twitter message does say something about doing a story—just no timeline or when he needed to speak to me for this story. I was overwhelmed when I got this message and still in disbelief at the whole situation, and before I responded, the story was published.”

Brenneman tweetBrenneman Tweet

EdWeek‘s Ross Brenneman interviewed Corgill in March 2015 when she was Teacher of the Year, and it was Brenneman who wrote the November 10, 2015, EdWeek article about Corgill’s resignation without interviewing her– which makes his article scholastically weak. Brenneman wrote his 1,300-word article on Corgill without her input, which he seemed ready to do based upon his having attempted to contact her with no result based on a single Twitter message– and not even any Twitter follow-up request– which leaves his article with loose ends that ought to embarrass him:

Many questions remain about the situation leading to Corgill’s resignation: Why did Oliver Elementary move Corgill to 5th grade without checking on the certification requirements? What prompted the district to check her certification after the fact? Why wasn’t Corgill transferred back to 2nd grade? What other options was she offered?

I can answer all of the above because I interviewed Ann Marie Corgill. In addition, I have copies of documents provided to me from Corgill’s personnel file because she provided them to me directly.

Moreover, despite the weakness of his lack of input from Corgill for his story on her resignation, Brenneman was still willing to place blame on her for her situation. To justify such blame, Brenneman cites An Authority:

Frustrated, Corgill resigned.

“In order to attract and retain the best teachers, we must feel trusted, valued, and treated as professionals,” she wrote in her resignation letter, published online by “It is my hope that my experience can inform new decisions, policies, and procedures to make Birmingham city schools a place everyone wants to work and learn.”

Not that Corgill escapes culpability either.

“One of the responsibilities of being a professional is knowing what you can do and cannot do,” said Phillip S. Rogers, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification.

The situation is just not that simple, O Available Authority., the media outlet that broke the story on Corgill and that Brenneman links to in the above excerpt, chiefly operated via a document from Corgill’s file: Her resignation letter. However, did not receive the copy from Corgill but from an anonymous source. This information told a friend of Corgill’s who called on her behalf. Corgill and her friends learned of the story after the fact: never contacted me before any of that went on [the publishing of the article about her resignation]. And the letter? Do you know how they got the letter? …

“Several friends knew the whole story about what was going on with me. I shared that letter [to seek their advice] because I wanted it to be professional; I wanted it to be on the up-and-up.

“A friend in Tennessee was just devastated by this whole story and was telling it to a colleague of hers… and she had my letter because I took a picture of it for them to read. She had my letter on her phone, and she let her friend read it… and that person who read it was a media person in Tennessee and sent it to herself, and anonymously sent it to without any of our knowing.

“The way that I know that is a friend of mine who is an ed reporter called and said, ‘Where did you get the letter?’ And they said, ‘We can’t give that information, but it was an anonymous reporter from Memphis.’ And I immediately called my friend in Tennessee. She wrote me the night before, and she said, ‘I was telling my friend in the media, and she’s probably going to want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Great. Have her call me.’

“She (the Memphis reporter) didn’t talk to me. She took my letter and sent it to without anybody knowing. And they sat around, and they pushed that thing [the story based on the resignation letter] out.

“I did get an email after because I fired off to them that nobody contacted me [and] ‘How did you get the letter?’, and [the author of the article] wrote back.”

Below is the email from the writer of the article, Adam Ganucheau. She subject line of Corgill’s email to Ganucheau reads, “Ann Marie Corgill here.”

Note that Ganucheau had already decided to publish Corgill’s resignation letter no matter her thoughts on the issue:

Ann Marie, thank you for reaching out. I tried calling a couple times yesterday, first and foremost to explain our reasoning for publishing the letter. My editors and I had a long discussion about it prior to the story publishing. In the end, we determined that since it was addressed to public officials, it was considered a public document.

Of course, I completely understand that you were caught off guard by our publishing it without your knowledge, and we absolutely considered that beforehand. But we felt that the letter itself was so important, and Birmingham and Jefferson County taxpayers needed to see firsthand the problems you have experienced.

It certainly was not published to name call and place blame on anyone, and I am terribly sorry it has done that. But from our end, the vast, vast majority of emails, messages and comments we’ve received have been extremely supportive of you, other teachers, and the students at Birmingham City Schools.

Please, please call me if you want to talk more about our decision. Our conversation would be completely off the record. My cell is 205-603-2018.

Regarding the rest of your statement, thank you for sharing! I’m staying in close contact with the school district and the board about all this, and we’ll publish another article at some point today with hopefully more of their side of the story. It seems to me that they are scrambling to make this right, and for your sake and your students’ sake, I hope that’s the case.

Thank you again for reaching out, and again, please reach out if you have any further questions.

Adam Ganucheau

So, a resignation letter that was leaked to Ganucheau by an anonymous source that is considered a public document even though does not have the authority to file a public records request to receive it– nor did verify with Corgill that the letter was legitimate prior to publishing.  As for Ganucheau’s “public document” defense: The letter was addressed to Corgill’s principal and superintendent and was part of her personnel file.

But that resignation letter from a former state teacher of the year sure did make for big news, no matter how it was obtained. And that is apparently what matters most to Ganucheau.

There was no careful easing of Corgill’s students into the news of her resignation. Ganucheau took care of that.

Note that Ganucheau did write that follow-up article based on Corgill’s email to him (dated October 30, 2015, at 10:25 a.m.). However, he chose not to include Corgill’s opening statement (in bold):

Hi Adam—I wanted to share my statement with you. This is all I have to say at this point.

I was enjoying our school’s fall festival with my students and colleagues yesterday, when I learned my pending letter of resignation had been published by without my knowledge or consent. This letter was personal, and unfortunately has now been used to name call and place blame on others.

I was working through the issues I raised in the letter with my principal and employer when my letter was made public.

Clearly, I was frustrated and upset about not getting paid. I rely on a regular paycheck to pay my bills and maintain good credit.

When the news came that I was not considered highly-qualified, my frustration boiled over.

First and foremost, I am a National Board certified teacher who has and will continue to give my life to the profession. Every child I teach and learn from is a part of me. I love them and work to give them my best.

The wall of bureaucracy I encountered trying to straighten all of this out with my employer led to my writing the letter.

This experience has shown me the importance of teachers’ voices in public education.

At this point, we are working together to try and solve this immediate set of problems.

Ann Marie Corgill

The original article includes the statement, “Corgill was not immediately available to comment Thursday morning.”

The article was published Thursday morning, October 29, 2015, at 11:38 a.m. Corgill was teaching at that time.  She received no phone messages at school to indicate that Ganucheau had made any effort to contact her. [Note: Corgill’s principal knew of the story before it broke. However, Ganucheau did not pursue speaking directly with or otherwise communicating directly with Corgill.]

Indeed, Corgill’s story is big news, and a major interview with her should be its center.

That is my goal in writing this series on Corgill.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Ann Marie Corgill 3  Ann Marie Corgill


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

To La. Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards: John White Needs to Go ASAP.

On November 23, 3015, former Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) data manager/analyst and fellow blogger, Jason France (AKA Crazy Crawfish), published a post entitled, “How John White Will Use His Own Failures to Sink Governor Elect John Bel Edwards (If he stays on).”

France’s post is worth a full read in its own right. However, in this post, I present excerpts, along with some commentary.

France opens his post with a listing of many of John White’s known deceptions and mismanagement. France includes the following:

  • inflated graduate rate
  • inflated matriculation rate
  • depressed dropout counts
  • flipped LEAP and EOC scores to show false improvement in the place of actual decline
  • sheltered RSD and charter schools in general from investigation
  • dissolved the state-level special ed department and forced LDOE employees to commit fraud on a routine basis by reporting that federal SPED money is being appropriately spent
  • illegally shared student data with third-party vendors
  • selectively shared data with researchers that support his agenda while withholding such data from independent researchers for years
  • cost the state thousands in litigation fees from select data sharing and systematic refusal to honor public records requests

There are more issues that I could add, including White’s now-infamous “muddying the narrative” associated with improper vetting of voucher schools as well as his efforts to not release Louisiana’s Class of 2014 ACT scores.

France argues that White needs to go, and soon. I agree.

He then offers information on White’s power base, both in Louisiana and nationally:

John White has quietly amassed an enormous power base in Louisiana.  He has legislators, superintendents, super PACs, LABI (Louisiana Association of Business and Industry run by a Grigsby figurehead), APEL  a pseudo teachers union run by a LABI/Grigsby promoted figurehead, The Times Picayune editorial board, The Advocate editorial board and management, Teach for America (who also has a BESE member, Kira Orange Jones that will support White unquestioningly), Stand for Children (run by a former White/LDOE staffer) ,CABL, BAEO (run by a former White/LDOE staffer), DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), and Lane Grigsby in his back pocket. …

White also has the ability to draw down millions of dollars from out of state ed reform minded billionaires to wage war on John Bel Edwards on his behalf.  Billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad, Jim and Alice Walton, that spent millions defaming BESE candidates across the state (for unpaid positions) in the recent elections. …

France cautions Edwards to be careful, that these influential individuals and groups should be expected to work together to try and sabotage Edwards’ image and efforts to confront the secrecy and corruption surrounding John White and his LDOE. I agree that Edwards should not take such advice lightly and should expect White’s allies to smile and seem to go along even as they plan to undermine his efforts to restore transparency and order to public education in Louisiana.

France then offers his most important caution to Edwards– what France calls a “poisoned olive branch”:

The most diabolical aspect of this is; John White could simply agree to everything John Bel asks him to do, he could cooperate in every way, and he could even release the actual data starting from day one of John Bel’s term.  Unfortunately, this would prove disastrous.

John White has built an enormous and unfounded success data bubble.  If this pops only during John Bel’s term in office, and the scores are not properly recalculated for previous years, it will be an easy claim to make and support, that John Bel ruined education in Louisiana. [Italics added.]

Some commentary on the above quote:

To begin, Edwards is well aware that John White is a liar. Well aware. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that Edwards will somehow dismiss White’s deceptive, corporate-reform-laden history and agree to any proffered, conciliatory efforts from White. Consider this statement from Edwards, as noted in this June 29, 2015, Advocate article:

I have no intention of allowing John White, who isn’t qualified to be a middle school principal, to remain as superintendent when I am governor. …

We have so many highly qualified candidates right here in Louisiana that we don’t need to go looking in New York City for our next head of K-12 education.

And then this statement from Edwards, as noted on November 02, 2015, on La. politcal blog, Cenlamar:

I do not believe John White can stay as Superintendent of Education while I am Governor. And to the extent that I can control that, that will not happen. Because I do not find him to be honest and credible when he deals with the legislature and other members of the public in Louisiana.

I know, for example, from some of his dealings with me, and some of the things he has said about me.

We know he went into a Senate Education Committee meeting with the intended purpose of muddying the water as opposed to telling the truth. He did it to promote a bill that was patently unconstitutional, that he had to have known was unconstitutional: funding vouchers through the Minimum Foundation Program. That is a problem for me.

There are plenty of fine educators in Louisiana who actually meet the qualifications for that office. They are experienced educators with credentials in education, and why we would not put one of those people in that office I will never understand. Why we would go out of state to find somebody who lacks the minimum credentials necessary to qualify for the office is beyond me. That is not the approach that I think we should be taking.

Thus, I do not see Edwards as agreeing to any supposed, White about-face. For that to happen, as noted in France’s “diabolical” scenario, White would have to admit his shady dealings, and Edwards would have to trust a man that he has already publicly declared not “honest and credible” to suddenly be what Edwards knows full well White is not: honest and credible.

France closes his post with the suggestions regarding the qualifications of individuals Edwards should consider appointing to the three Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) seats under Edwards’ control, as well as to the Division of Administration (DOA):

Motivation for counter-attacking and applying pressure to John White should not be an issue for these folks (Edwards’ BESE appointees), as they already have lengthy track records in putting  students, teachers and parents before corporations and firsthand experience at how these shady folks work. I would also recommend putting someone like me in charge of education policy or LDOE’s IT department, which is now a division of DOA and not beholden to John White – thanks to Jindal’s statewide IT reorganization.

I wholeheartedly agree that Edwards’ BESE appointees should be seasoned in the workings of BESE and White– and BESE/LDOE under White. This is no time to appoint novices. My first thoughts go to Lottie Beebe, Mary Harris, and Lee Barrios, all of whom are well aware of how White works and how BESE operates. And I agree that France should be back in LDOE’s IT department. France knows LDOE. He knew it prior to White, and he has direct experience with the pressures White applies to honest, capable  individuals working in LDOE.

There will be a lot to clean up in LDOE once White is gone. Moreover, all data and reports issued from White-operated LDOE will need to be audited and likely reconstructed. France also suggests purging LDOE on White’s unclassified executive staff. Absolutely. Dislodging White from LDOE also requires extracting White’s numerous tentacles, which, as France notes, extends to RSD administration, as well.

In his interview with Cenlamar, Edwards had this to say about his three BESE appointments:

My BESE appointments will be people who are committed to the education of our children, and who understand that we are over testing our children and spending too much money testing our children.

We are driving school districts to teach to the test because of the way the accountability system currently works, and that is not in the best interest of our children.

I cannot emphasize enough that these three BESE appointees need to be well acquainted with White and his LDOE-issued deceptions.

As to Edwards’ accepting any “I really want to keep my job” olive branch from White:

Not going to happen.

joel klein job wanted Former NYC Chancellor and White’s Mentor, Joel Klein, and John White. Created by a supporter of traditional public education in response to a Tweet by Klein that it is “imperative that he (White) continue the work [in Louisiana].”


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

La. Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards Wants a New State Superintendent.

One of Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards’ desires is to rid Louisiana of education superintendent John White.

Even though Governor Bobby Jindal promoted and endorsed White as state superintendent, technically it is the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that hires the superintendent and the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that confirms BESE’s hire.

And technically, it is BESE that would vote to fire him– which some see as an impossibility since most of those seated on the incoming BESE appear to be on White’s side.

However, there are ways to rid Louisiana of John White, ways that go beyond mere BESE configuration. As governor, John Bel Edwards is well leveraged to pressure White to either resign or to prompt BESE to vote him out.

On November 22, 2015, I spoke with Louisiana Representative Brett Geymann (Lake Charles) regarding the leverage that Edwards has in fulfilling his preference for a new state superintendent.

brett geymann  Rep. Brett Geymann

“Two things,” Geymann began. “First is the BESE ethics bill. There are two versions, one sponsored by me [in 2014], and the other, by Bob Hensgens [in 2015]. It had the support of the House to move two years ago and died by the Jindal administration in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.” Geymann explained that in negotiations for the Common Core Compromise bill that passed, no other anti-Common Core legislation could be promoted. I asked him if the BESE ethics bill was considered “anti-CC legislation,” and he said yes.  [It includes language prohibiting “nongovernmental organization” membership if such membership “requires adherence to or adoption of educational standards.”]

Geymann also observed that the terms of these BESE ethics bills “would have made Boffy, Orange-Jones, and Roemer resign.”

So, Geymann’s first point was that Edwards could promote revival of the BESE Ethics Bill as a means of both altering the current configuration of BESE (Boffy and Orange-Jones still hold BESE seats) as well as preventing other current, and future, BESE reps from also having questionable involvements that are arguable conflicts of interest.

However, as our conversation continued, Geymann noted that his second point was the more salient, for it concerns money: “John Bel Edwards has tremendous influence and control over LDOE contracts via the Division of Administration (DOA). He can make BESE and John White’s life very miserable.”

As governor, Edwards will appoint the next commissioner of administration– the person who is able to scrutinize any contracts John White sends DOA’s way. And all major contracts must have DOA approval.

Regarding control over LDOE contracts through DOA, Geymann added, “Even though John Bel Edwards does not have support from the BESE board [regarding White’s exit], in the end, John Bel Edwards wins.”

As concerns Geymann’s second point about money, there’s more:

The governor controls the executive budget– even the money BESE has to operate. Geymann noted that typically, the legislature has influence over the budget, so it is not just the governor, but the governor is the most powerful office in the state: “Right now, he [Edwards] has momentum, which is especially true in his first year.”

In closing our conversation, Geymann moved beyond his two points to add, “He [Edwards] controls to some degree the House and Senate ed committees”– something legislators supporting local control did not have under the Jindal administration when those committees were appointed. And control over committee membership means that the governor “can control legislation, no question,” Geymann concluded.

In short, Edwards could use all of the above to put a degree of pressure on White heretofore unknown, even considering the brief stint of pressure that White experienced when Jindal had DOA suspend LDOE’s testing contract and other contracts in June/July 2014.

As for the newly-elected BESE, Geymann reflected: “You have new BESE member[s] that business may have put a few million dollars behind, but at the end of the day, the governor has so much influence and power, there’s a possibility they would want to work with the governor.”

In other words, even BESE-majority backing for White is potentially malleable.

What is certain is that Edwards can surely get White where it hurts: in those scores of LDOE contracts. And he can get White’s “boss,” BESE, in its budget.

So, when the Louisiana governor-elect publicly repeats that he wants a new state superintendent, know that he also has leverage to bring it to pass.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.


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