A Group Of High School Students Just Uncovered Their Principal's Big Secret

The future of journalism is bright (and tenacious).

As Connor Balthazor started connecting the dots, he realized he might be onto something big.

The 17-year-old and a group of his classmates from Kansas's Pittsburg High School had been investigating their new principal, Amy Robertson. After some initial digging, they began to see that things just weren't adding up.

"Everybody kept telling them, 'stop poking your nose where it doesn't belong,'" newspaper adviser Emily Smith said in an interview with The Washington Post. "They were at a loss that something that was so easy for them to see was waiting to be noticed by adults."

And thanks to some encouragement from the superintendent, the students pushed on. After weeks of work, six students from the Booster Redux — the student newspaper at Pittsburg High School — had discovered that their newly hired principal misled the school administration about her credentials. 

As reported by the Post, the private university where Robertson had gotten her degree, Corllins University, is widely believed to be what's known as a "diploma mill," where someone can buy a degree or credentials. Corllins was not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. 

"All of this was completely overlooked," Balthazor told the Post. "All of the shining reviews did not have these crucial pieces of information … you would expect your authority figures to find this."

Unable to verify her credentials, the students got Robertson on the phone. But during a conference call interview, according to NPR, they reported in their article that she "presented incomplete answers, conflicting dates and inconsistencies in her responses." 

Last Friday, the students published their work in the school newspaper. By Tuesday night, members of the Booster Redux team, parents and faculty were in a school boardroom when the school board president announced Robertson's resignation. 

"In light of the issues that arose, Dr. Robertson felt it was in the best interest of the district to resign her position," Pittsburg Community Schools announced in a statement,  in the Kansas City Star. "The Board has agreed to accept her resignation."

It didn't take long for their story to be national news.

First, Todd Wallack, a member of the Boston Globe's famous investigative reporting team known as Spotlight, tweeted out praise to the students. 

The students, who had watched the movie Spotlight in class — which was based on that team's work in uncovering the Catholic Church's coverup of child molestation — were stunned at the shoutout, according to The Washington Post.

Then, not long after, The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold, who has been nationally recognized for his investigative reporting on President Donald Trump, tweeted about the "badass" high school reporters from Kansas. 

That kind of national recognition would excite seasoned professional journalists, and the students could hardly believe it.

"I honestly thought they were joking at first," Balthazor told the Post when he got a text from a classmate that Wallack had tweeted about them. "It was awesome to know that such respected members of the journalism community had our backs."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Elena Yakusheva

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