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My polling numbers plummet

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There’s been more turmoil than usual — if I was a character on Fringe, I’d wonder if William Bell was messing around with the doorways between parallel worlds.

It wasn’t just the flak I caught over the story about Winnipeg School Division’s threats to punish teachers and other staff who can’t produce a doctor’s note after calling in sick on a snow day on Jan. 25, though that’s a big part of it.

WSD board chair Jackie Sneesby unloaded on teachers in particular, using less-than-collegial words such as lying and dishonest.

That was hardly intended to maintain harmonious relations heading into a round of contract talks that see the school board’s already dropping broad hints that if teachers expect any more 3.97 per cent increases, fewer of them will be on the payroll.

One WSD teacher has sent me a series of emails, saying she’s appalled at what I wrote, telling me I’m biased, I don’t check my facts, and that I have no principles.

I pointed out that the article she attacked in detail and to which the majority of her being appalled was directed, was actually written by one of my colleagues. When the teacher listed what she’s been told are the true facts that she says I didn’t check, the numbers and percentages were the same as the ones I’d published after talking to Sneesby and to the president of the Winnipeg Teachers Association.

I emailed back and told the teacher that if she wants to attack my integrity, she’s free to call me at work. And she replied that calling me biased and saying I have no principles do not constitute attacking my integrity.

Sigh.

And still on WSD... no matter how often I deny it, there’s a belief out there that I’ve been intimidated out of covering school board meetings, dating back to a threat of legal action when I wrote about the leaked short list of candidates for the then-vacant chief superintendent’s job.

I stopped going because, as I’ve blogged previously, it’s a waste of time — 20 minutes of public session, with nothing worth reporting, followed by all the juicy stuff happening behind closed doors.

But the accusation remains that I’ve been scared off.

Sigh.

I’ve heard again from one of my admirers who teaches in the Pembina Trails School Division. I know I’ll never convince him that I don’t hate teachers, and I have no intention of listing for him any more positive stories I’ve done about teachers, the positive stories he says I never write, because he’ll believe what he wants to believe.

But, hey, if I was going to write to this teacher and attack his ability as a teacher and attack his character, I think I’d probably use my Hotmail account, rather than my Free Press email. But I guess Pembina Trails SD is OK with its employees using division email for personal diatribes.

Moving right along.......

An anonymous caller left a message demanding to know why I didn’t confront and challenge Sneesby over how she can legally be a trustee in WSD when, the caller says, she lives in Birds Hill.

Huh?

Then there’s someone who wants me to send him a list of every school division in Manitoba, the number of trustees on each school board, the remuneration that each of those trustees receives, and provide a justification for why they haven’t been amalgamated into a small number of huge boards.

While I wish I had that kind of time to meet your request, I suggest you spend some time on the Manitoba School Boards Association website at http://www.mbschoolboards.ca, or just call Emessbaw at 233-1595.

A teacher who read my article on the annual education job fair at U of M, wants a list and contact information for all those out-of-province and international schools hiring teachers, so he can send out some applications.

I suggest you contact the faculty of education and ask for the education students council’s contact information.

And in other recent news, or, actually, non-news...

A guy left me his number and told me he wanted to tell me all about racism at a city university.

So I called back.

We’ll cut this down a little for brevity’s sake. First, it didn’t happen to him, it allegedly happened to a friend. I had to explain to the guy that a private training program is not part of the public education system, and it’s certainly not a university, it’s a for-profit private business.

And the alleged racism? Guy says that the person doing the training is of a certain ethnocultural heritage. Those in the class who share that ethnocultural heritage sit together, and spend the class talking, ordering pizza, doing Facebook, and sending text messages. Those class members who do not have that ethnocultural heritage sit separately, and if they stick up their hand to ask a question about the course material, are docked marks...insert about a dozen "allegedly"s throughout this paragraph.

Gosh, who wouldn’t jump all over a story like that?

I told the guy that since I assume his friend is an empowered adult, that she call me — and I’m still waiting.

There’s the woman who wanted to share the scandalous news that kids at a certain school all wore red one day as part of a day of raising money for Haiti. And the school has punished them for being inappropriately dressed, said the woman. And every call I made to her number went through to a voice mailbox that was full, and she did not respond to interview requests sent to her email address.

And then there were the 20 minutes I spent on the phone with a parent who wants school divisions to contact parents whenever something untoward happens in a school. Not just a lockdown, which usually produces a note sent to all homes, but any kind of incident involving discipline, involving violence, or alcohol, or drugs.

And he made it very clear that he was not ready to speak for publication.

I didn’t think that a school of 1,000 or more students had the time to contact all parents about anything except the most serious incidents, or those that directly affected or involved their own kids. Nor did I think that the schools would want to do so.

But I did tell him that he should take part in his school’s, or rather schools’, parent councils, and raise his concerns and ideas there. And I told him that when he was ready to talk for publication, we could revisit the issue.

Understand that when I’m at work, it’s not my time I’m spending, it’s my employer’s time -- and the employer generally prefers to have me spend my time doing things that will actually lead to publication. The amount of time I can spend discussing things that people do not want published is finite.

And after 20 minutes -- by which time we were going in circles, and I’d told this parent for the fifth time that we could talk again when he was ready to talk for possible publication -- I told him that I had to get back to my work, and he hung up on me.

And he emailed me and let me know with considerable sarcasm that he was sorry for taking me away from my important work.

Sigh.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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