Deep Background

Background Screening: If you want a proper background screening done, ask a teenager

Student journalists at a high-school newspaper in Kansas had a bad feeling when they looked at the CV of their school’s new principal who had just been hired by the local school board.

For starters, the institution where Amy Robertson claimed she had earned her master’s and doctorate degrees was not accredited, news accounts said. “There were some things that just didn’t quite add up,” student Connor Balthazor later told The Washington Post.

The Booster Redux, the student paper at Pittsburg High School in southeastern Kansas, printed its findings that there were discrepancies in principal Robertson’s resume on a Friday. By Tuesday, the school board announced her resignation, after she failed to produce a transcript showing she had received the public-university undergraduate degree she claimed, the Post said.

“All the checks are not done”

So how could it be that teenaged reporters discovered something that school district officials missed? The Kansas City Star quoted Donna Whiteman, assistant executive director of legal services for the Kansas Association of School Boards, as saying that such mistakes are understandable due to a massive shortage of teachers and principals. School districts act fast in hiring good prospects “before someone else snatches them up,” Whiteman said. “So it is not unusual that all the checks are not done because they are trying to get them signed.”

Before landing the principal job, Robertson had lived in the Persian Gulf for many years, and had worked most recently as head of an education consulting firm. Robertson told the Kansas City Star that she had attended her graduate school before it lost accreditation, and that the student newspaper report was “not based on facts.”

School officials had hired Robertson after interviewing her and performing a check of criminal records. But no one, at least no adult, did a larger background screening. The problem appears to be akin to a fly ball that lands between two hesitant outfielders.

“State officials don’t do deep checks”

The Kansas City Star reported: “State officials don’t do deep checks into each institution’s status or an applicant’s work experience. That’s up to the local district. [Pittsburg schools superintendent Destry] Brown said the district did not vet Robertson’s credentials. Instead, it planned to rely on the [state] Department of Education. But the state said it never received transcripts for Robertson, and thus never even started the licensing process.”

Subscribe to our Newsletter