A student newspaper’s investigation led to the resignation of their new principal
Student newspapers aren’t generally known as hotbeds of investigative journalism, but the kids behind the Booster Redux, the student newspaper for Pittsburg High School in southeastern Kansas, just broke a story about their new principal that led to her resignation.
Amy Roberston was hired as the school’s principal on March 6th. The Booster Redux started researching her for a story and found a lot of facts that didn’t add up. For example, when they looked up Corllins University, where Robertson claimed she got her master’s and doctorate degrees, the site didn’t work. That’s pretty odd for a private university. A team of six students investigated some more, but couldn’t find any evidence that Corllins was an accredited university.
“She was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials,” senior Trina Paul told the Kansas City Star.
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) April 5, 2017
Corllins, it turns out, is known as “diploma mill” — a school where students can buy degrees. Corllins is not accredited by the Department of Education or the Better Business Bureau and has no known physical address. When contacted by The Kansas City Star, Robertson said by e-mail that “The current status of Corllins University is not relevant because when I received my MA in 1994 and my PhD in 2010, there was no issue. All three of my degrees have been authenticated by the US government. I have no comment in response to the questions posed by PHS students regarding my credentials because their concerns are not based on facts.”
An emergency faculty meeting was called on Tuesday. They asked Roberston to show them a transcript for Tulsa University, where she claimed to have received her undergraduate degree. She couldn’t. She resigned that evening.
— Anica Padilla (@AnicaPadilla) April 5, 2017
What these kids did took a lot of hard work and a lot of courage. They did more than just Google searches — these six students spent weeks contacting schools and accreditation agencies, trying to puzzle it out. “Everybody kept telling them, ‘stop poking your nose where it doesn’t belong,’” said Emily Smith, the newspaper’s advisor. For high school students to take on their principal and school board is no small thing, especially when it could lead to something this big and this negative. Said student Connor Balthazor to The Washington Post: “At the very beginning it was a little bit exciting, [but] it really started hitting me that this is a much bigger deal.”
By the way, Robertson also claims to have a teaching degree from Cambridge University in Cambridge, England. I’m not usually a betting woman, but I will gladly bet anyone one million dollars that this isn’t the case.
The students were assisted and advised by Eric Thomas, executive director of the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, as well as other journalists. Smith had to recuse herself from the investigation as she had been part of the team that hired Roberston. She told The Washington Post that she was extremely proud of her students: “They were at a loss that something that was so easy for them to see was waiting to be noticed by adults.” Yes. As are we all.
To their credit, the superintendent and other school administrators supported and backed the students despite the fact that the investigation uncovered what is an embarrassing oversight and, frankly, shows a neglect of their student’s well-being and safety. “I do feel it is my responsibility. As superintendent, I feel like I let the teachers and the students down. I publicly admit that,” said superintendent Destry Brown to the Star yesterday.
When hiring people to work in schools, let alone in a job as important as principal, we families expect every i to be dotted and every t to be crossed. We expect that the people in charge of our kids’ educations are doing everything possible to make sure they are safe and well-educated. The idea that someone who might not even have a bachelor’s degree let alone a Phd, and lied about it on their resume, could get hired as a principal should scare all of us.
We are extremely proud of the kids at the Booster Redux who did the work the adults were supposed to. They made a real difference by just asking questions and caring about the answers.