Editorials

Editorial: Pittsburg High School students had guts to investigate principal’s credentials

Pittsburg High School students Gina Mathew, Kali Poenitske, Maddie Baden, Trina Paul, Connor Balthazor and Patrick Sullivan prepared to Skype with newly hired principal Amy Robertson.
Pittsburg High School students Gina Mathew, Kali Poenitske, Maddie Baden, Trina Paul, Connor Balthazor and Patrick Sullivan prepared to Skype with newly hired principal Amy Robertson. Pittsburg High School

One of the most heartening pieces of news out of the heartland this week has got to be the story about the high school students in Pittsburg, Kan., whose investigation into the credentials and work experience of their just-hired principal led to her resignation.

It took a lot of guts to risk the wrath of someone who was about to have so much power in their school and, potentially, their lives.

And it’s not every high school journalism teacher who would risk the ire of her future boss the way Emily Smith did. Especially since she had been on the hiring committee. Smith and her students showed real courage in pursuing the story.

To recap, 17-year-old Maddie Baden, a junior at the school, initially interviewed the incoming principal, Amy Robertson, “to introduce the new principal to the community,” Baden told The Star. “No one knew who she was.”

Baden and five other student journalists changed all that, after a three-week investigation that began with a simple Google search that turned up questions about Robertson’s degrees and the for-profit school in Dubai she had been running when it received multiple “unsatisfactory” ratings and then was closed.

“If students could uncover all of this,” Baden said, “I want to know why the adults couldn’t find this.”

Good question. Lots of good questions, in fact.

Robertson said in an email that her degrees had been “authenticated by the U.S. government” and that she had no comment on the questions raised by the students “because their concerns are not based on facts.”

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

As is always the case, they had no way of knowing where the investigation would lead. But they surely did realize that word of their probe would get back to Robertson and to those who had hired her.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” Or, of course, be willing to suffer the consequences.

Instead of making national news, the most likely outcome was that the students and Smith would wind up with an insulted king in the principal’s office.

Now, thanks to their willingness to take that chance, the search for a new school principal is back on.

Superintendent Destry Brown took responsibility for not doing his homework. Smith took her share of the blame, too. The student journalists learned that facts still have power, and that anyone can use them for the common good. Their whole community is in their debt.

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