Student journalists’ probe into new principal’s credentials leads to resignation

A group of high school journalists in Kansas forced their school’s new principal to resign after their investigation into her background found problems with her credentials.

Reporters and editors at Pittsburg High School’s student newspaper, the Booster Redux, began looking into Amy Robertson’s background after Pittsburg Community Schools’ board hired her on March 6. Pittsburg is located in southeast Kansas, about 125 miles south of Kansas City, Missouri.

At the time of her hiring, the school district said that Robertson would bring “decades of experience” to the position, which she was scheduled to start this fall.

We are excited to announce the addition of Dr. Amy Robertson as principal at PHS beginning on July 1. A welcoming event...

Posted by Pittsburg Community Schools USD 250 on Thursday, March 30, 2017

Students told the Washington Post that discrepancies quickly showed up when they began looking into Robertson's credentials.

"There were some things that just didn't quite add up," Connor Balthazor, 17, told the Post.

One of the biggest red flags was Corllins University, the private university where Robertson claimed she received her master's degree and doctorate. When the student reporters researched Corllins, the university's website didn't work.

They also found no evidence that Corllins was an accredited school, the Post reported.

The students, five juniors and a senior, also located a number of media reports that revealed Corllins to be a “diploma mill,” where a person can ultimately buy a degree. The school is not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and an inquiry with the Better Business Bureau revealed that the school, address unknown, was not BBB accredited.

The Kansas City Star reported that students searching for Robertson online also found stories published by Gulf News about Robertson and an English language school in Dubai, where she lived for about two decades. The articles, published in 2012, stated that Dubai education officials suspended the license of that school and accused Robertson of not being authorized to serve as its principal.

The school was shut down in 2013 after years of unsatisfactory ratings by officials, the Star reported.

"That raised a red flag," student Maddie Baden, 17, told the Star. "If students could uncover all of this, I want to know why the adults couldn't find this."

Robertson refused to comment on the students’ questions about her qualifications.

"I have no comment in response to the questions posted by PHS students regarding my credentials because their concerns are not based on facts," Robertson told the Star.

She told the Star and the Booster Redux that Corllins’ current accreditation status was irrelevant because the school had no accreditation issues when she received her advanced degrees in 1994 and 2010.

"All three of my degrees have been authenticated by the U.S. government," Robertson told the Star via email on Friday.

The Post reported, however, that Robertson, during an emergency faculty meeting on Tuesday, was unable to produce a transcript confirming her undergraduate degree from the University of Tulsa.

Robertson resigned that day.

The school district announced the resignation in a statement posted on the district website.

"In light of the issues that arose, Dr. Robertson felt it was in the best interest of the district to resign her position," the statement read. "The board has agreed to accept her resignation."

The principal position will be reopened and a replacement found.

The student reporters’ work has brought them national attention, and kudos from people across the country.

Wow this 2012 article abt the Dubai school that Amy Robertson tried to run.

🙀 It's so very... 🎺-esque! smh

— HSofia 🕊🌏🙏🏾 (@hsofia)

Emily Smith, the students' newspaper advisor, told the Post that the newspaper staff was "at a loss that something that was so easy for them to see was waiting to be noticed by adults."

Pittsburg schools Superintendent Destry Brown told the Star he was surprised when the students questioned Robertson's credentials, but that he encouraged them to seek the truth.

“I want our kids to have real-life experiences, whether it’s welding or journalism,” Brown told the newspaper.

Smith said she was proud of her students.

“They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired,” Smith said. “They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”

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