High school principal resigns after student newspaper exposé

The new principal left the school just days after her students' investigation revealed her questionable qualifications

High school principal resigns after student newspaper exposé

The members of the school newspaper team that exposed their new principal [Kansas City Star]

While the future of media is always called into question, particularly with regard to how well young investigative journalists can work today, a team of writers from a Kansas high school have made headlines around the world after catching out their new principal.

Just days after student reporters at Pittsburg High School started digging into the background of their new principal’s CV, Amy Robertson resigned from her $93,000 (€87,000) per year position.

“She was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted to be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials,” said Trina Paul, editor of the school’s newspaper, the Booster Redux.

“We stumbled on some things that most might not consider legitimate credentials.”

Chasing a lead

On Friday last week, the school journalists published a story questioning the credibility of the new head of their school after searching for the university where she acquired her master’s and doctorate degrees.

Searching for Corllins University, the students found the organisation’s website, though navigating through it offered very little information. Contacting the US Department of Education, officials there said that Corllins University also wasn’t named on the Department’s list of schools closed since 1986.

The website was riddled with grammatical errors and could provide no details of a physical address.

But their research into Corllins did reveal several articles referring to the university as a ‘diploma mill’, where those looking to boost their credentials could effectively buy degree titles.

A three-week investigation

Delving further into the digital trail of their new principal, the investigative journalists also uncovered a number of stories from the United Arab Emirates, where Robertson had worked in education.

Those articles, dating from 2012, claimed that Dubai’s education authority had suspended the licence of an English-language school and had accused her of not being authorised to act as that school’s principal. The school also received an “unsatisfactory” rating on the education authority website every year from 2008 to 2012, before it shut down in 2013.

“This raised a red flag,” said Maddie Baden, a 17-year-old Pittsburg junior. “If students could uncover all of this, I want to know why the adults couldn’t find this.”

The front page of The Booster Redux, the school newspaper that broke the story [BoosterRedux]

Reacting to the scandal, the school district’s spokesman said they had relied on the Kansas Department of Education to approve Robertson’s credentials, saying she emerged as “the best fit for the job.” Superintendent Destry Brown said it was surprising how strongly the school pupils had questioned her qualifications.

“The kids had never gone through someone like this before,” said Brown on Friday as the story broke, adding that the district school board had “100% supported the Robertson hire.”

But a closed meeting on Tuesday evening of the Pittsburg Community Schools Board of Education, Roberston was reportedly unable to produce a transcript proving even the existence of her undergraduate degree from the University of Tulsa.

She subsequently resigned from her post, with the school board saying it would be meeting the journalists to thank them for their service to the school.

As the story began to go viral, many senior American journalists tweeted praise of the students and their dogged investigative reporting, including Todd Wallack of the Boston Globe's celebrated 'Spotlight' unit:

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