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High School Reporters: We Didn't Expect Our Story To Bring Down The Principal

"Sometimes you just feel like you’re working and it’s not being heard," one of the students told BuzzFeed News.

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When Maddie Baden, a student reporter for the campus newspaper at Pittsburg High School in Kansas, was assigned a short profile of incoming principal Amy Robertson, she expected to write at most 500 words.

What happened instead, she told BuzzFeed News, was a whirlwind.

Baden, along with five other student reporters and editors of the school’s monthly publication, the Booster Redux, wound up collaborating on a front-page, feature-length story that found inconsistencies in Robertson’s credentials and education background.

“The discrepancies,” the students wrote, “cast doubt on the accreditation of a university she said she attended and the degrees she listed.”

The Booster Redux reporters revealed that the university where Robertson earned her master's and doctorate degrees was not accredited by the Department of Education, and that the school’s campus in Stockton, California — where Robertson had said she visited — did not exist.

Their story ran on March 31. On April 4, after Pittsburg Community Schools held an executive board meeting to discuss the findings presented in the students’ article, Robertson stepped down.

“In light of the issues that arose, Dr. Robertson felt it was in the best interest of the district to resign her position,” the board announced in a statement, adding that the job was now available.

Baden and one of her colleagues at the Booster Redux, Gina Mathew, told BuzzFeed News that after three weeks of research, they presented their findings to Destry Brown, superintendent of Pittsburg Community Schools.

The administrator did not appear to take their story seriously at first, they said.

“He pushed it away and said, ‘There’s nothing really to see here. There’s nothing you can do about it,’” Baden said. “I guess he wanted to push it away, but it persuaded us to continue.”

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Pittsburg Community Schools for comment.

Mathew said that Brown also encouraged the students to speak with Robertson another time (they had already spoken to her twice for their report). The request posed a difficulty as their deadline — and prom — approached.

“It was a challenge juggling everything, but I think we are very proud of the story that came out, and clearly by the way people have responded,” Mathew added.

Baden said that even as the stakes got higher, they neither expected nor aimed for Robertson’s resignation.

“The only thing we really wanted to happen with this story was to make sure people were aware of what is going on and for the board to enhance the process they go through with candidates and checking their credentials,” she said.

Trina Paul, a senior and editor of the Booster Redux, said that the massive response the staff has received for their story made her realize how often journalistic work goes unnoticed.

“Sometimes you just feel like you’re working and it’s not being heard,” she said. “I want to share this with anyone in journalism who’s been discounted in the past year, or who feels like there’s been an attack on journalism.”

CORRECTION

The students in this story attend Pittsburg High School, part of the Pittsburg Community Schools district, in Pittsburg, Kansas. A previous version misspelled the name of the school, district, and city.

Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.

Contact Tamerra Griffin at tamerra.griffin@buzzfeed.com.

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