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New Iowa school superintendent sorry for plagiarizing letter

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A new Iowa schools superintendent is apologizing for plagiarizing parts of a welcome letter she sent to district families, acknowledging she copied several phrases word for word from a similar letter a New York superintendent authored in 2017.

Dr. Christine Trujillo, who started last month as superintendent of public schools in Gilbert, Iowa, admitted that her Aug. 10 back-to-school letter copied from a 2017 letter by Superintendent Gerard Poole of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District in New York.

“I made a mistake and an error and I apologize for that,” she told The Associated Press in an interview Monday evening. Trujillo said that she was in a hurry to get the letter out while preparing for the school year.

Her letter to parents misstated the district for which she worked and the time of year, copying these sentences from Poole: “It is an exciting time for the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District, and I’m looking forward to the year ahead. Please accept my best wishes for a happy and healthy summer.”

Hours later, she sent a revised letter that deleted those lines without explanation — but that still kept several other phrases copied from Poole.

She wrote that the Gilbert district “has earned a reputation for academic excellence, and the boundless opportunities offered beyond the classroom setting are incredible, as they provide enriching learning experiences for students at all levels.” Poole’s letter before the 2017-2018 school year used those same 29 words with the exception of “incredible,” which he referred to as “exemplary.”

The two letters contained several other nearly identical phrases, and a district parent notified the AP of the similarities.

Trujillo said she had no personal connection to Poole but came across his letter in her research. A spokeswoman for Poole said that he doesn’t know Trujillo and would have no comment.

The use of phrases copied from online sources goes against standards that the district expects of its 1,400 students, who are warned in elementary school that “copying and pasting is plagiarism and will not be tolerated.” The district’s policy on using online resources warns that “severe penalties may be imposed for plagiarism.”

After the AP’s inquiry, Trujillo sent a new letter to district parents Monday evening to apologize and explain how her errors unfolded. She said she was researching other superintendents’ communications and included phrases “in my initial draft because I felt they truly represented my thoughts and feelings.”

“My intention was to go back and rework the words to make them my own. Unfortunately, in my haste to get this letter out with the current COVID mitigation strategies, I failed to perform this important edit,” she wrote.

The Iowa native started the job in Gilbert, a town of 1,200 just north of Ames in central Iowa, on July 1 after serving as assistant superintendent of learning and leadership for Tempe Schools in Arizona. Her 3-year contract, which was approved in March by the school board, pays her a $170,000 annual salary in its first year.

“The board has full support of Dr. Trujillo,” its president, Andrew Ricklefs, wrote in an email Tuesday.