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South Middleton Schools

South Middleton superintendent admits to plagiarizing speech

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Superintendent Matthew Strine has apologized for plagiarizing portions of a 2011 speech in his June 10 message to Boiling Springs High School graduates.

Strine posted a statement Wednesday on the South Middleton School District website in which he said he was sorry for using words drawn from four paragraphs of a commencement speech actress Amy Poehler gave to 2011 graduates of Harvard University.

“I am embarrassed for my lapse in judgment,” Strine said, adding that in some cases, he made minor adjustments to what Poehler said to fit current events and the broader context of his graduation remarks.

“In the moment, I wanted to give an uplifting message that would give hope to the graduates and help to bring us back together after so many months of physical separation,” Strine said. “I wanted to help us mend some of the deep divides that our community and our nation face by reminding the audience that no one can go through life alone.”

Similar language

Earlier this month, a group of district parents discovered a YouTube video posted July 3 by the Reason We Learn, an account focusing on examples of “liberalism” in education. The video compares Strine’s speech with Poehler’s speech.

There are a number of instances where Strine quoted Poehler’s words virtually verbatim without any attribution to Poehler. Below are some excerpts from the video:

Poehler: “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration.”

Strine: “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to others, be open to collaboration.”

Poehler: “No one is here today because they did it on their own.”

Strine: “No one is here today because they did it all on their own.”

In other cases, Strine took language presented by Poehler, again without attribution, and changed it. Below are some excerpts from the transcript:

Poehler: “Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own.”

Strine: “Be open to the possibility of other’s ideas and that they may be better than your own.”

Poehler: “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.”

Strine: “Know that the ideas of the group are always richer and deeper than any idea of one member of that group. So find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.”

Statement

In his statement, Strine said that he just completed his third year as district superintendent “leading our schools through unprecedented times.”

“We have accomplished a lot, creating and posting newly drafted curriculum maps, building the fund balance to the state limit of 8%, streamlining the district office, and improving workflows, and building a very good team of dedicated professionals,” Strine said. “A lot of effort and good judgment has gone into making these things happen. However, my recent lapse in judgment pushes all these accomplishments to the background.”

He recalled his intentions and thought process in basing parts of his speech on what Poehler said.

“In that moment, I did not feel I was doing anything wrong because I was not gaining any money for work published, nor was I receiving a grade for this assignment,” Strine said. “In my thinking, I was passing along a portion of Amy Poehler’s speech that really resonated with me about the importance of collaboration and working together.

“Since the time I delivered that speech, I have realized that not giving credit to Amy Poehler for her words puts into question my integrity,” he said. “For those who know me, this is shocking. I am a man who follows the rules, who does what I say I will do, who gives credit to those who do the work, and who works hard and does not cut corners.”

In his statement, Strine said that he should act as a role model for district students and employees in everything that he does as superintendent.

“I failed to do that in this instance,” he said. “I understand the body of my work in education is in question with just one lapse in judgment. I do not wish any of the students or employees to follow my lead from this example, from my mistake.”

Message for graduates

Instead, he urged people to think matters through and consider the impact that their words and actions have on others. Strine outlined his thoughts in his statement.

“For the graduating class of 2021, I did not offer you all of my own words,” he said. “My actions may have affected some students, teachers and community members. I should have told this class that life is very tough, and that the past 18 months have been extreme and unlike anything we have experienced in our time. But, we are making it through this pandemic. I should have said that, with every challenge in life, you should take the time to reflect, savoring the successes and improving on the failures. When you do fail, try to understand why so you can better understand the process and better understand yourself.

“Because time has offered the opportunity to reflect, I better understand myself,” Strine said. “I am not perfect, and I do make mistakes. Even good intentions can lead you to a lapse in judgment. You can take years to build a good reputation and tarnish all of that hard work and planning in just a moment. Think things through and realize your impact on others.”

In posting his statement, Strine said he hopes that students learn to own up to their mistakes and work to improve themselves as he plans to do as superintendent.

“I apologize to the students, to the employees, to this community, and to Ms. Poehler,” Strine said. “I will ensure this never happens again.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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