Student newspaper sleuths uncover principal’s secret
Armed with the power of Google and some healthy skepticism, students at a Kansas high school launched an investigation that led to the resignation of their brand-new principal.
The staff of the Booster Redux, the student newspaper of Pittsburg High School, was working on a profile of Amy Robertson when they uncovered some serious problems with her credentials.
Maddie Baden, a co-editor at the paper, told CNN the whole thing started as a lighthearted “welcome” story. But it became something else when Baden did some research after an interview with Robertson.
“I found articles that she had violated [educational] guidelines at her school in Dubai where she taught,” Baden said. The odd revelation brought the project to a halt.
“We didn’t know what we wanted to do,” she said. The staff talked to their school’s superintendent, she said, who told them not to worry about it.
Still, something seemed off.
Principal’s claims unravel
The story broke wide open when the team looked into Corllins University, the school where Robertson claimed she’d earned her masters and doctorate degrees.
“We tried to look up the school she had gone to, but when we tried to use the website, it wouldn’t work,” Baden said. “There was no physical address or telephone number for the university.” Further research revealed the school wasn’t even accredited.
When asked to explain, Robertson was inconsistent, Baden said: She told the staff she had done most of her coursework online but traveled from Spain to the college’s campus in Stockton, California. But no one in Stockton seemed to know where, exactly, Corllins was. To complicate matters, Robertson was still living in Dubai at the time of the investigation, with plans to come to Kansas in April before starting her principal duties in July.
Baden and the rest of the Booster Redux team knew they had uncovered a bombshell. Luckily, Baden said, the few people who knew about the project were supportive of the team’s research. The superintendent who had discouraged their probe never tried to stop it, she said.
Publication, then resignation
The story published Friday. Everyone was extremely supportive, and teachers stopped staffers in the halls to congratulate them, Baden said.
Four days later, on Tuesday, Robertson resigned.
“In light of the issues that arose, Dr. Robertson felt it was in the best interest of the district to resign her position,” a statement from the school reads.
The biggest question for the Booster Redux team was why no one had caught these inconsistencies sooner. School administrators told CNN affiliate KSNF their vetting process would have eventually led to the same conclusions — but at the time of the students’ revelations, Robertson had already signed a contract.
In response to the allegations, Robertson told the Booster Redux that Corllins was an accredited school when she attended.
While controversy of this scale is far from typical student paper fodder, Baden said the staff let the truth guide them.
“At first we were confused about the whole situation, but we were also very confident,” she said. “We had to be in order to publish the story. We knew we had all the right facts.”