Work of student journalists leads to principal's resignation
Days after student reporters at Pittsburg High School in Kansas dug into the background of their newly hired principal and found questionable credentials, she resigned from the $93,000-a-year job.
“She was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials,” said Trina Paul, a senior and an editor of the Booster Redux, the school newspaper. “We stumbled on some things that most might not consider legitimate credentials.”
Minutes into a closed special meeting Tuesday night of the Pittsburg Community Schools Board of Education, board president Al Mendez emerged to announce to a packed boardroom that Amy Robertson, the new principal, had resigned.
“In light of the issues that arose, Amy Robertson felt it was in the best interest of the district to resign her position,” Superintendent Destry Brown said in a statement after the executive session.
The board agreed with that decision and said will reopen the principal position Wednesday morning and contact others who had applied for the job to see if they are still interested.
“Our goal is to find the best person to be our principal that we can find,” Brown said. “I know the students want that too.”
Pittsburg journalism adviser Emily Smith said she is “very proud” of her students. “They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired. They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”
Students journalists published a story Friday questioning the legitimacy of the private college — Corllins University — where Robertson got her master’s and doctorate degrees years ago. U.S. Department of Education officials, contacted by The Star, confirmed student reports; the federal agency could not find evidence of Corllins in operation. The school wasn’t included among the agency’s list of schools closed since 1986. Robertson earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa.
Students found and The Star confirmed the existence of several articles referring to Corllins as a diploma mill — where people can buy a degree, diploma or certificates. And searches on the school’s website go nowhere. No one from the university responded to emails sent by The Star this week.
Contacted by email Friday, Robertson, who has lived off and on for 19 years in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said, “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.”
She also said, “All three of my degrees have been authenticated by the US government.” Robertson declined to comment directly on students’ questions about her credentials, saying, “I have no comment in response to the questions posed by PHS students regarding my credentials because their concerns are not based on facts.”
The Pittsburg Board of Education approved hiring Robertson at its meeting March 6.
In a news release about the hiring, district spokesman Zach Fletcher said that “Robertson comes to Pittsburg with decades of experience in education.”
Robertson is CEO of Atticus I S Consultants, “an education consulting firm where she gained leadership and management experience at the international equivalence of a building administrator and superintendent,” the release said.
Robertson, after application reviews and interviews with administrators, faculty and students, “emerged as the best fit” for the job, said Brown. He said the district relies on the Kansas Department of Education to approve a candidate’s credentials.
“I felt like she is very knowledgeable about what is going on in education today in college and career readiness, she is very familiar with Common Core, she knows about how a building works and about maintaining a safe environment,” he said.
He was surprised students questioned Robertson’s credentials.
“The kids had never gone through someone like this before,” Brown said. But he said he encouraged them to seek answers. “I want our kids to have real-life experiences, whether it’s welding or journalism.”
Despite questions, Brown said Friday that the district’s school board had “100 percent supported the Robertson hire.”
Tuesday night he said he felt bad about how it all turned out. “ I do feel it is my responsibility. As superintendent I feel like I let the teachers and the students down. I publicly admit that.”
Robertson, who he said also has a teaching degree from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England, isn’t licensed in Kansas. She would have had to take classes at Pittsburg State University, pass a test and acquire her license before she could officially hold the principal post. That isn’t uncommon for someone hired from outside the state, Brown said.
Maddie Baden, a 17-year-old Pittsburg High junior, said the student news staff began looking into Robertson’s background after an electronic search of her name turned up several articles published by Gulf News about an English language school connected to Robertson in Dubai.
The 2012 articles said Dubai’s education authority had suspended the license for Dubai American Scientific School and accused Robertson of not being authorized to serve as principal of that school. The private, for-profit school received an “unsatisfactory” rating on Dubai education authority inspection reports every year from 2008 to 2012 and was closed in September 2013.
“That raised a red flag,” Baden said. “If students could uncover all of this, I want to know why the adults couldn’t find this..”
She had originally interviewed Robertson for a routine school newspaper story “to introduce the new principal to the community,” Baden said. “No one knew who she was.”
Pittsburg is about 90 minutes south of Kansas City on U.S. 69. The high school has 900 students.
Six students worked about three weeks looking into Robertson’s past work and education.
When they went to Corllins University’s website, “We found a website that didn’t work,” Baden said. And a student checking with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation found that Corllins was not listed in its database of 7,600 schools accredited by a recognized accrediting agency in the United States.
But officials there told The Star the school could have been accredited in the past.