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Two weeks without winter, and education stuff

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I’ll be away for a couple of weeks on a winter vacation, one of the life changes we get to enjoy that goes with both kids now being adults.

We’ll be in Costa Rica with a Road Scholars tour, formerly Elderhostel, or as child the younger calls us, Hostile Elders. It’s ecotourism for older people who are still physically active.

Meanwhile, just to stir up all the people out there who like to use pseudonyms or Internet handles to post comments and call me the scum of the earth, a few education matters to which you can respond......

I can’t ever recall a February since becoming education reporter that not a single school has asked me to come to I Love to Read Month. Some years there’ve been four or five requests for me to read to kids, but nary a one this year.

Oh, well.......

It will be interesting to see what the response is to the elite girls hockey academy at Shaftesbury High School, which you can read about here.

Looks as though it could have quite an impact on the highest levels of the still-developing girls minor hockey programs in the province, potentially skimming off the top players from the dozen teams playing double-A. That’s a sports issue that’s beyond the education beat, but still intriguing.

Meanwhile, Pembina Trails School Division stands to enjoy as many as 45 new students — though some likely are already resident in the division — coming to fill some of Shaftesbury’s 100 or so empty seats. Remember that schools-of-choice students from outside the division bring their per-student provincial grants with them.

Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association executive director Morris Glimcher points out the stringent recruiting policies to which high schools must adhere. Basically, the student must approach the school and ask to come, the school cannot go out and recruit the student.

That’s one of the stories I’ll be following. I already heard from the mother of a high-calibre hockey player this morning, a girl who goes to a school in Seven Oaks School Division. She’s had three emails from the people involved in the hockey end of this new academy, said the mother, urging her to go to the open house at Shaftesbury to check out the hockey academy. The mother says the hockey fees for the academy will run $10,000 a year, though the hockey people have chosen not to talk to us yet or give us any details, such as which arena the program will use.

Another story of mine... a surprising reaction from the University of Winnipeg to my story about U of M’s business school and five other U of M faculties offering direct entry to high school students with averages of 85 per cent or higher, which you can read about here.

U of W was quick to inform me that its business majors soared from 352 last year to 617 this year, which leads me to speculate that that’s one of the reasons that U of M made its procedural change. Previously, students couldn’t apply to enter the I.H. Asper School of Business until second year.

That’s not what surprised me, however, what was surprising is how aggressively U of W immediately pushed its desire for a me-too story about its business school, in a series of emails and phone calls, and advisories that profs and students were sitting by the phone waiting for me to call. I can’t ever recall U of W’s reacting that way before to a story about U of M.

And seguing again.....

My story about Winnipeg School Division playing hardball and asking its teachers to take a wage freeze, which you can read about here, shouldn’t really be considered unexpected, though the salary numbers are pretty harsh.

Doesn’t mean they’ll settle for that, of course.

But how many umpteen times have I written about teachers’ salaries as the elephant in the room, teachers being just under two-thirds of the cost of operating the $1.9 billion public education system? The budget math simply doesn’t work: if you freeze school property taxes, cap spending increases, pay teachers their standard wage increases in recent years of three per cent plus cash plus increments plus some guarantees of parity with neighbouring divisions, you can’t still employ the same number of people.

At the rate that teachers’ salaries were going up, it would be seven years of compounded increases, eight years tops, before teachers with 10 years’ experience and an undergrad and education degree would hit $100,00 a year. I’m not saying they don’t deserve the money, I’m saying the budget math doesn’t work, unless you employ fewer people.

Meanwhile......

Child the elder is somewhere west of Austin, cycling across the Texas plains, maybe catching a glimpse of Randolph Scott on horseback off in the distance. I keep hearing Marty Robbins running through my head, and hoping my son doesn’t wander into Rosa’s Cantina.

Sorry, you have to be a certain age.

Go over on the right there to my list of favourite blogs, and click on Crazy Guy on a Bike.

Which reminds me....it’s becoming quite a pattern, I referee six hours of youth soccer in about a 26-hour period on Saturdays and Sundays, I’m running and walking for most of that, sometimes also have adult matches on Friday night, but after the Saturday matches I go into Safeway and they’re really concerned about the obviously frail health of a decrepit old geezer, and ask me, "Are you absolutely sure you can get these groceries out to your car by yourself?"

Sigh.

Another topic, as my attention wanders......I can’t expect that everyone knows how our business works, but here’s an inside tip: if you’re a community group involved in a sensitive issue involving the public education system, and you come to us requesting a story on an issue of vital importance to you, you don’t get to approve the story before publication, nor do we tell you what the story says, no matter how many times you phone me; nor do you get to kill the story because we won’t let you approve it before publication.

Harumph.

I’ll find out in Costa Rica if life is worth living even if you can’t follow NHL trade deadline day on TSN. Not that I followed it constantly every year, of course, but sometimes I would stumble across it while surfing the web for work-related purposes.

And I don’t know if we’ll see the Oscars, though most of the places we stay have TV, and all the touristy activities are planned during daylight.

As a good English lad, I lean to The King’s Speech for most major awards. Certainly, I liked Social Network, but, still...though the best film I saw all year was Winter’s Bone, and I don’t recall enjoying too many movies more than I enjoyed Inception.

Speaking of movies, I finally got a chance to watch Monsters this week off pay per view. How does a movie that good get to play one week in Winnipeg, on one screen, and not even show up at the second-run houses?

Yes, I know it’s low budget, I know the two lead characters trying to get through the alien-infected part of Mexico to get back to the U.S. border are the zillionth variation on Bogie and Hepburn from African Queen, I know word-of-bloggermouth ripped the movie when it didn’t turn out to be a CGI-heavy alien invasion flick.

I know that I’m usually way off base in my appreciation of the arts — why did some people near our seats give After Miss Julie a standing ovation, and why was there only polite applause for The Shunning? — but Monsters is one of the best and most adult science fiction movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Maybe the political and social messages of Monsters went over the heads of the fanboys still living in their parents’ basement.

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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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