Telling Tales out of School

with Nick Martin

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  • Remarkable women still defined as 'wife of'

    03/24/2015 9:27 PM

    I was working on the story yesterday of Janice Filmon’s appointment as lieutenant governor, and was quite dismayed to see on Twitter how many commenters, including some mainstream media, were leading their stories by defining Filmon’s most important quality as being the wife of former premier Gary Filmon.

    And then I opened my newspaper this morning, turned to my story, and discovered to my surprise that I had done exactly the same thing.

    Janice Filmon holds the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba among numerous other awards given to only the most extraordinary of Canadians and Manitobans, all for exceptional personal merit; she has a science degree in home economics from the University of Manitoba, she chairs the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation board, she’s on the airport board, was founding chair of Winnipeg ALIVE (A Leadership Initiative in Voluntary Efforts), there’s her work with the Nellie McClung Foundation, she’s a recruiter of volunteers and a mentor of young people who give their time and energy to helping others, charitable and philanthropic and volunteer and community leadership work forming so long a list that the mind boggles.

    She is a remarkable person.

    But now I realize in reading what appears under my byline that the most significant aspect of Lieutenant Governor Janice Filmon, is that she is married to a man who was premier for a period of time until 16 years ago, a man whose greatest public accomplishments were in the last century, before some of the people who I hope read my story were born — and that whatever Janice Filmon has done and will do, she is most appropriately identified in terms of her relation to her spouse.

    A reporter gets used over 44 years to having his news judgment brought into question from time to time, and recognizes that, fortunately, others will catch and rectify my mistakes more frequently than I like to admit.

    I had recounted Brian Pallister’s anecdote about his family consulting Janice Filmon in 1992 about what life is like for families of politicians; that’s when Pallister first considered running, and the Pallisters approached Janice Filmon because, at the time, her husband Gary was Manitoba’s premier. That seemed to me to be an appropriate time to first inform readers that Filmon has a spouse, given that LG's spouses accompany them to events and ceremonies on occasion.

    There are times when it can be pertinent to name a person’s spouse prominently and early as an essential part of a story. I obviously did not understand that this was one of those times.

    I was wrong, and I apologize, and I am grateful that my embarrassing blunder did not make it into print.

    Of course, it goes without saying that we always identify men up high in our stories as ‘the husband of,’ and I will continue in every story to so identify Peter Bjornson, Paul Olson, Greg Selinger, Brian Pallister, Mark Wasyliw, Mike Babinsky...

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  • Blame Koshelanyk for doing his job

    03/18/2015 11:35 AM

    Rookie trustee Dean Koshelanyk is causing big problems for the Winnipeg School Division.

    You people in his ward, you people who elected him and let him loose to create havoc — was he open and transparent about his penchant for doing his homework, did he disclose fully and honestly during the campaign that he reads documents and reports, was he up front with you about his diligence?

    Or did he try to hide it, until he was safely in office, and then — boom! — out he comes with all kinds of stuff, ambushing everyone with information that no one ever saw coming.

    The division is going to need a bigger fan by the time Koshelanyk gets through throwing facts and hitting the totally-inadequate fan they’ve got.

    Case in point, the latest religious turmoil within the division over the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s annual petitions to conduct religious exercises and/or Bible studies in a handful of schools in which parents of at least 25 children have signed petitions allowing their children to participate.

    This has been going on for years, and the parents have the right to do so under the Public Schools Act. Trustees have always given the CEF a hard time, holding one of the three readings of the enabling bylaw each month, after staff have counted the names and verified they all have kids at the particular school.

    But Koshelanyk is the first one to venture into the land of the bureaucrats, and ask to see the petition, in this case for Greenway School.

    And when Koshelanyk beheld the petition, he was aghast at its form and detail and specifics, or more accurately, the considerable lack of such. He alerted the board, the majority of whom rejected the application on the basis of unacceptable documentation, and who have now tasked a board committee with working with the CEF to develop a petition template that meets the newly-awakened trustees’ standards.

    It was also Koshelanyk who asked me where on earth I ever got the idea the WSD feels entitled to a new school in the Waterford Green subdivision without even putting it on the five-year capital priority list submitted each year for provincial consideration.

    I told him that finance chair Sherri Rollins told me it wasn’t on the list, in response to my questioning her about it.

    You can guess the next line, eh? Koshelanyk told me that it’s not only on the five-year capital priorities list, but it’s been the division’s self-identified number one priority since 2013, and he sent me the proof which he’d found in public documents.

    You people thought life was interesting with Mike Babinsky? Prepare to tremble every time Dean Koshelanyk rises to speak.

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  • Out-of-left-field layoff could get ugly

    03/16/2015 4:41 PM

    The last time that I can remember a school division’s laying off an assistant superintendent was Sunrise SD, and that didn’t turn out well at all.

    The province ended up doing a review of the problems within Sunrise.

    Now it’s Winnipeg SD that’s decided seemingly out of nowhere that it will ditch one of its five senior managers, none of whom has any plans to retire.

    That means one of chief superintendent Pauline Clarke, and the four area superintendents: Celia Caetano-Gomes (central), Karin Siler (inner city), Robert Chartrand (south), Fatima Mota (north).

    This could have been done a lot more smoothly a year ago when Dushant Persaud retired.

    But it also raises questions about why trustees are doing this. That would leave roughly one assistant superintendent for every 11,000 students, whereas the ratio elsewhere in the city ranges from 3,500 to 4,000 students for each assistant superintendent — a ratio that doesn’t seem to have violated Education Minister Peter Bjornson’s tighter controls on administrative costs.

    It could get really ugly depending on which superintendent gets shown the door.

    The main public controversy facing the division right now is the overcrowding at Ecole La Verendrye School, and the possible swap with Earl Grey School.

    The trustees put forward the swap, then rejected it, then put it back on the table, all in less than five months of office. Meanwhile, the potential solutions put forward by the board include breaking up the Earl Grey student population and moving the Grades 7 and 8 kids to one or more other schools, establishing a second French milieu school in the south end and changing La Verendrye’s boundaries, converting William Osler from an adult English as an Additional Language school to elementary, changing Ecole Robert H. Smith from a dual track English and French immersion school to a French milieu school... and changes also affect day cares within schools, and before-and-after school programs.

    The parents at Earl Grey School are especially bitter, and at the delegation meeting the other night, I could hear some of them personally attacking south area superintendent Robert Chartrand. The next day, anonymous readers complained to my editors that I failed to do my homework, by accepting as accurate the school capacity figures that Chartrand gave to the trustees.

    I have no reason to doubt those figures.

    The division has hired consultants to talk to the neighbourhoods, but this is ultimately a political issue and a political decision. Bureaucrats may get directed to report on how many children are in each program, how many kids each school can handle, what the impact will be of changing catchment area boundaries, but when trustees get that information, it’s their responsibility to make the decisions, not the staff’s.

    As I said, this could get ugly.

    Meanwhile, I’m told the budget only passed 6-3, and that there was a motion lost by a 7-2 vote to cut the 3.2 per cent increase to 2.4 per cent.

    Remember that new era of openness and transparency that trustees were raving about back in November when they took office? The final budget decisions were reached behind closed doors, and tonight’s agenda, while it did go on-line this morning, is almost totally bereft of details, nothing to indicate what the various committees are reporting to the board.

    And in another meanwhile, has anyone noticed how hot to trot the division is to get a new school built in the Waterford Green subdivision in the northwest corner, right on the border of Seven Oaks School Division, even though the board has yet to put that hypothetical school on its five-year capital priorities list for the province.

    There is quite the sense of entitlement manifesting, an assumption that because WSD has its first significant new housing in decades, that it should jump the line for new schools, a list that includes Waverley West, Seven Oaks, Brandon, and Neepawa.

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  • No invite for me, and oodles of disparate stuff

    02/27/2015 4:19 PM

    I’m away until March 9, so you anonymous trolls will have to save up your vitriol until then. I’m sure you’re quite capable of building up a considerable stockpile.

    Meanwhile...

    This is what, four or five years in a row now that no school has asked me to take part in I Love to Read Month, after years in which I regularly received several requests? I have no idea what I did to turn everyone off, I’m nowhere near as bad a person as the anonymous on-line trolls would have you believe.

    As I’ve said recently about my approach to refereeing, I strive always to remain avuncular.

    Moving on...

    Liberal leader Rana Bokhari recently tweeted that Manitoba schools need more time devoted to physical activity. Sure, I encourage physical activity, but I replied on Twitter, and asked Bokhari what would make room in the timetable for more physical activity. I haven’t heard back from her yet.

    Last year, it took me ages to get an interview with Bokhari on her party’s education platform, and even though I was quite emphatic that I only wanted to talk to her if the Liberals have specific positions on issues, all I got were broad generalizations and cliches.

    I understand that the Tories and Liberals both have taken the position that the NDP is evil, but what has either party said so far about what it would do with and for education?

    Switching gears....

    I blogged recently about people who can’t understand why I don’t drop everything I’m doing to look into their personal situation, people who believe that we should ignore Martian war machines landing in Transcona, so that we can devote all our resources to checking out their individual complaint against public education.

    Sometimes there’s sufficient substantiation or potential newsworthiness for us to devote time and resources to individuals. Sometimes. And it all has to be weighed against other major breaking stories, and often I’m totally swamped with systemic issues.

    The latest in a long line of outraged people is a father who advocates medical marijuana, who alleges that an addiction counsellor speaking to his child’s class, called the dad a liar and a crackhead to his child’s face in front of the whole class, that the professional knew absolutely nothing about marijuana, and that she represented a Christian front.

    He provided no substantiation, and the organization — you’d recognize its name in a heartbeat — has no religious affiliation or agenda of which I’m aware, and is highly-respected.

    And he’s very, very angry and astonished that I am not devoting every minute of my time to report his story. I can think of some public institutions that would probably wish I’d spend a week or three exclusively on the man’s allegations, but I digress.

    Sigh...

    I know I’m not the only one who noticed Monday night that WSD trustee Mike Babinsky patronized a public delegation by telling the single mother who’d made a presentation that she’d been very well-spoken. Babinsky did not tell retired teacher/public delegation Terry Clifford that he was well-spoken. Since Clifford is very articulate, it begs the question, why did Babinsky single out the woman?

    Someone who agreed with my tweets on the subject wasn’t in a position to speak up, but I’m wondering why no one else on the board called Babinsky out on it.

    Deftly changing subjects...

    There was the night at adult soccer, proving there’s a first time for everything — a coach erupted in anger at me for getting hit by the ball.

    Had I stood on the goal line and prevented a goal? No, this was a harmless play in the middle of the field, when the player with the ball had open teammates to whom to pass the ball, and instead turned and inexplicably drilled the ball at me from about five yards away, a ball that would otherwise have gone out of play, to no apparent advantage to her team.

    I guess the coach would have preferred that I call the match from centre, turning in small circles with the play, or trudging along 30 yards behind the ball, instead of running and staying close to the action.

    Sigh.

    Tim, I appreciate your keeping me in the loop about your constant advice to government. But, and I mean this kindly, are you not aware that The Hon. Nancy R. Allan, as you address your messages, has not been the minister of education for quite a while now?

    And in another increasingly-rare education reference, I wrote a story about a proposal from the U of W Students Association under which it would be compulsory for students to take a compulsory course in indigenous culture by 2016 — oops, redundancy alert. Neither the UWSA nor the UW administration had any trouble with my story, but a freelance journo complained to my bosses and demanded corrections to the story.

    And back to soccer:

    I know it’s really bad form to report praise and compliments people have made about me, that it can seem totally arrogant and self-serving and egotistical to do so, but hey, people tell me I’m great, and I have to share it. As Joe Willie Namath said, or maybe it was Dizzy Dean, it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.

    Thus, I’ve got to tell you, coach, you were really making me blush out there on the pitch, as you spent the entire match turning to your players and proclaiming, "This referee is unbelievable!"

    Blush.

    I’ve been following the coverage of the updated sex-ed curriculum in Ontario, and saw a tweet from The Toronto Star that linked to what was taught in the 1940s about venereal disease and waiting until marriage.

    I wasn’t in school in the 1940s. No, really, you can check the records, I’ll waive FIPPA.

    I went through the Ontario public school system, in Scarborough and Etobicoke and Georgetown and what in 1953 was still a Wolseley-like neighbourhood near Yonge and the Davisville subway station, and I don’t recall a single moment of sex-ed. Nothing in health class, not ever, nothing anywhere else in any other subject.

    On the other hand, thanks to the Manitoba family life curriculum, my kids were able to explain a couple of scenes in American Pie to me that I didn’t understand.

    And now for something completely different...

    I need to issue some apologies for my behaviour at Reh-Fit. Yes, obviously your bag needed that single chair far more than I needed to sit down to put on my boots. And to the serious young body-builder, it was very selfish and insensitive of me to want to use the bench in the locker room for getting on my gym stuff when you needed it to spread out the contents of a pharmacaeutical warehouse.

    I hate being a living stereotype, but I do seem to get in everyone’s way all the time, now that I’m a senior. I spend a lot of time doing so at my favourite fruit and vegetable shop, where it makes far more sense for shoppers less than half my age to just stand and glare at me, instead of wasting energy saying "Excuse me," since I probably wouldn’t even notice anyway.

    And in grocery stores, where I am constantly annoying, naturally it’s up to me to wrestle a cart around you when you come straight at me, much more sensible than for a perfectly ambulatory 20-something to take a step to the side.

    Sigh.

    Our favourite Safeway having become something else, I tend to shop at the local Sobey’s now that it has Air Miles, but occasionally my quest to cash in 100 Air Miles coupons takes me into stores where I don’t usually shop, wherein seniors’ moments await.

    One place, I stop at the deli, where two staff are behind the counter chatting, and a third is visible in the back. And I stand..and I stand...and I stand. Best case scenario, seniors don’t eat much, so serving me isn’t worth the effort; worst case scanario, I’m Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense. And then, because I fall into the crotchety spectrum of seniors’ stereotypes, I rudely ask if someone can serve me. The two look up from their chatting, yell to the one in the back, she looks up, goes back to what she was doing, the two at the counter shrug, and go back to chatting. I leave without any deli meat.

    Seguing seamlessly....

    I’m wondering while watching The Americans, since they’re often not sleeping alone but also not with each other, don’t they ever talk in their sleep, or get suddenly awakened, by a noise or the phone, and what are the chances that they wouldn’t come awake, even once, speaking Russian?

    And while we’re on TV, I must acknowledge I didn’t see that coming on Ascension. But I still don’t see how a generation ship would look so sparkly and fresh more than five decades into its voyage, and everyone maintaining a strictly-segregated social order. I was in high school in the Kennedy years, and if the U.S. had had that kind of technology, the Americans wouldn’t have used it for a generation ship, and if the Soviets had known the U.S. had that kind of technology, they would have shot first.

    I watched Alan Shepherd and John Glenn go into space in a little tin can — thanks, David — and I knew even then what incredible amounts of energy it took just to get that little weight into orbit. And here you have an enormous generation ship that 51 years later is down to its last 25 bottles of bordeaux, not to mention the infinite number of white shirts and an endless supply of hair spray.

    Speaking of feeling old, I’m listening to 1290, and Brian Munz is urging people to check out The Joe before another of the grand old arenas is gone, and I’m going, like what did he say? I remember going to The Joe just after it opened, after years of trips from LondonOnt to the Olympia, with its wonderful memories and weird angles and seats built all over the place, though we won’t get into the guards in the parking lot, itself within a barbed-wire fence in a really iffy neighbourhood. And then there came The Joe, fresh out of the box, straight across the river from Windsor, close to Cobo Hall and hotels and the restaurants of Greektown, one of the few places in Detroit with lots of people on the street and activity at night.

    I remember going there to see the Red Wings play, and I was talking a little while later to Dave Cooke, an N-Dipper MPP from Windsor, and both of us had found that the Peschke’s Polish Hot Dogs tasted different at The Joe, and we speculated that it was because they were starting out with a clean grill.

    Oh look, there’s something shiny!

    I was in a care home and spotted a copy of a provincial guide of services for seniors. Figuring this is right up my alley, that it’ll have lots of stuff pertinent to me, I picked it up — and saw that the minister’s greeting was from Larry Desjardins.

    That would have potentially come in handy for protection, since Tory leader Brian Pallister warned earlier this week that the NDP is conniving to manipulate me and my fellow seniors. But I — wait, sorry, what was that you just said, Greg, what is it that’s hiding under my bed?

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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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