Known for strong leadership, principal felled by résumé

Robin Anthony Toogood II was an admired educator, the kind of principal who inspires loyalty among other teachers for his compassion and positive attitude. To his students, he was a role model who commanded respect, a leader who handled discipline infractions with a gentle hand.

But according to local schools officials, Toogood harbored a secret throughout his 15-year career in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia schools: Although he claimed to be highly educated — saying he had a doctorate — in reality he was a college dropout.

Former colleagues said they were surprised that Toogood appears to have repeatedly landed teaching and administrative jobs while providing fake or embellished credentials, as Virginia education officials have alleged. Those who worked with him said Toogood was known for his gregarious charm, warm smile and innate leadership qualities.

“He would have been the last person you would have ever expected to lie,” said Katie Holland, a former substitute teacher at St. Michael the Archangel, a Catholic elementary school in Silver Spring where Toogood worked as an assistant principal during the 2007-2008 school year.

Toogood resigned as principal of Manassas City’s Jennie Dean Elementary in late June, after Prince William County officials discovered during a routine background check after Toogood applied for a job there that his résumé contained numerous exaggerations. His state teaching license was revoked, one of 10 cases in which the Virginia Board of Education has revoked, canceled or denied a licensure since 2000 for misrepresentation of credentials, according to state education officials.

For years, Toogood — who attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County but never graduated — eluded background checks while teaching in public, private and charter schools. He had worked in Manassas since 2009.

Officials in Arlington County said Wednesday that they alerted Manassas City schools administrators more than two years ago about concerns regarding Toogood’s educational background after he applied for, and was given, a job there. In May 2012, the Arlington School Board approved Toogood’s appointment to become the next principal of Drew Model School, an elementary Montessori.

Arlington officials said an outside firm that was contracted to do background checks helped with screening Toogood’s record.

Linda Erdos, spokeswoman for Arlington Public Schools, said questions about Toogood’s credentials for his master’s degree and Montessori training were raised by “members of the Montessori community” after a news release announced his hire, including his claims of having degrees from the University of Maryland, Trinity University, Nyack College and Georgetown University. On Wednesday, two parents of students at Drew at the time said that a group of parents did basic Internet searches that brought up discrepancies in his record.

“As we started to look into those issues, Dr. Toogood rescinded his acceptance and so APS pursued and hired another candidate,” Erdos said. Erdos said that since then, Arlington has done its own background and credentials checks for all hiring.

In May 2012, Arlington’s assistant superintendent for human resources, Betty Hobbs, contacted Kenneth LaLonde, then the Manassas human resources director, and “shared the questions that were raised.”

Toogood continued at the Manassas school for two more years.

Manassas Superintendent Catherine Magouyrk, who joined the school system in July 2012, said Wednesday that she was unaware of Arlington’s warnings.

“Nobody shared any of that information with me,” she said.

LaLonde retired July 31, and he did not respond to a request for comment. Manassas administrators could not confirm Arlington’s account.

Magouyrk said that her staff has recently beefed up its background check procedures beyond state requirements. Magouyrk also said that she is proud of the school system’s staff.

“We have good teachers and good administrators, and while we had one person that falsified his credentials, it does not erase the work that happens every single day with our children in our schools,” Magouyrk said. “While this incident is sad, it angers me at the same time because our community needs to trust us. It’s one person, and we have over 1,000 good employees.”

Toogood worked in D.C. public schools from 2000 to 2005 and then moved to D.C. charters. Patricia Brantley, chief operating officer for Friendship charter, where Toogood worked for a year, said the school verifies the educational credentials required for a job. Toogood was hired for a non­-academic dean position that involved student support and did not require a bachelor’s degree, she said.

At St. Michael, Toogood was regarded as a strong leader.

“He was beloved because he was totally child-centered,” said Diana Hellinger, who taught English there. In working with the faculty, he was “open-minded, fair and a problem-solver.”

Holland, the former substitute teacher at St. Michael, said she believes that even without a college degree, Toogood was still a valuable educator. She said he was the kind of teacher who leads students by example and made a positive impression. She said that work is more important than what is represented by a diploma.

“It proves that not all teachers really need degrees,” she said.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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