Science Teacher Shortage Lands in Two Publications

This piece was originally published on UNH Manchester’s Campus News site, but was later picked up by New Hampshire Business Review. Please click through to either one of the links for the full story.

UNHM program addresses science teacher shortage

Derek Burkhardt always wanted to be a teacher. He attended to the University of New Hampshire at Manchester to explore his teaching options in the arts, but ultimately decided to become a biology major and seek a career as an environmental consultant.

This summer, Burkhardt is finishing up his bachelor’s degree in biology, but he’s come back around again on the teaching career.

“I realized I always wanted to be a teacher and just because I didn’t want to be an art teacher didn’t mean I couldn’t be a science teacher,” said Burkhardt.

Burkhardt is entering an area of teaching where certified professionals are in short supply. Across the country, and in New Hampshire, science teachers are considered a “critical shortage area,” specifically in middle school and some high school science classes.

Read more either here or here.

Will Write for Food

How a love of food and a past gig led to this business story assignment

Fresh, local produce at Monadnock Food Co-op

Fresh, local produce at Monadnock Food Co-op


As the City Hall reporter at the New Hampshire Union Leader, I would often write news features about the residents’ various efforts to improve the city, from forming neighborhood watches to opening a farmers market. One of my features was about the Manchester Food Co-Op and their monthly potluck dinners to recruit new members. The group had only a few hundred members then, far from their 1,000 member goal before opening a retail store. I didn’t give that co-op much thought until years later, when I was roaming the aisles of the Monadnock Food Co-Op on a recent visit to New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region. If Keene could open a successful co-op, then Manchester must surely be close. And what other communities are talking about open similar cooperative grocery stores? You’ll find the answer in the story below.

The latest food co-op to open in NH

The latest food co-op to open in NH

A hunger for local food

While it may seem counter to New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” mentality, the cooperative business model is becoming a popular way for local communities to provide an alternative to the traditional supermarket.

Over the past five years, there has been a surge of interest in cooperative grocery stores as consumer interest in organic and locally sourced foods has grown.

Since 2009, food co-op stores opened in Littleton and Keene, and the Manchester Food Co-op is currently searching for a downtown location for a new grocery. Great River Co-op in Walpole is raising funds with the hope of opening a store in 2015, and Berlin, Gorham and Brookline have had discussions about launching a co-op in their communities.

To read more, click through to the full story in New Hampshire Business Review.

Big Data in a Small City

I had no idea what the term “Big Data” meant until I was assigned this story. When I called my first source, I felt a little sheepish about being so clueless about it, but that’s often the case with journalism. One of the best tips I got as a fledgling reporter was that I should never be afraid to admit I didn’t know something. So I asked, what is Big Data. I was told the name is really just a silly tech term, like Web 2.0, and the actual substance of Big Data, well, it’s big. You’ll see when you read the story.


Photo by Mike Ross, UNH Photo Services

Photo by Mike Ross, UNH Photo Services

Preparing Students for Big Data at UNH Manchester

The amount of stuff we compile on digital devices has exploded in the past five years. Everything from the selfies we take on our iPhones to the medical data gathered every day at hospitals across the country, the amount of digital data now being created is massive. Coming up with better ways to store, access and process this information is a fast growing segment of the computing technology field, called “big data,” and it’s an area where University of New Hampshire at Manchester students will be able to learn more with the launch of a new class in 2015.

Jeremiah Johnson, a lecturer in mathematics at UNH Manchester, is currently developing the new course, “Statistics in Computing and Engineering,” which will be offered in the spring semester next year. Aimed at students in the Computer Science and Entrepreneurship program, the class will discuss methods for analyzing large amounts of data and breaking the information into functional pieces, essentially laying the groundwork for the skills needed to work in “big data.”

“Students coming out of college with a computer science degree will need to know how to work on big data,” said Johnson. “The big growth area in Silicon Valley is data-driven technology.”

Read more at UNH Manchester Campus News.

Tech Girls

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Girls Technology Day looks like it was a blast. It was certainly a blast writing about it.

High School Students Explore Computing and Engineering at Girls Technology Day

The computer tech boom of the past decade has created many new and exciting careers for young people, but what troubles people like Mihaela Sabin, associate professor and coordinator of the Computing Technology Program in the Division of Science and Technology at UNH Manchester, is that too few young women are entering the tech field.

“One stereotype that prevents girls from being interested in computing is about how technology professionals are perceived,” said Sabin. “Girls in middle school and high school imagine a lonely programmer working on a laptop, she said, with little collaboration or communication with co-workers and team mates. Unfortunately, many girls see working in technology as kind of geeky and lacking meaningful social interactions.”

Read more here:

Stay Work Play: Summer Bounty

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Perhaps I was hungry, or just really excited about garlic scape pesto. When I sat down my blog post for Stay Work Play this weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about our Wake Robin Farm CSA. 

My first job was on a farm picking strawberries, blueberries and a few other fruits and vegetables the summer I was 13. I picked in the blazing sun from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week with a crew of about a dozen other teenagers. The work was hot, I only made $3 an hour, but I ate a healthy dose of fruit that summer and went back to school with a great tan.

The experience also gave me a great appreciation for locally grown food. The farm I worked on was just one of a few within a mile or two of my home that grew summer food favorites like corn, peaches, tomatoes and various squash. I learned early on that a tomato from down the road tastes way, way better than the tomatoes shipped in from Mexico.

Portsmouth, like a number of communities throughout the state, hosts a weeklyfarmers’ market, where local food growers, bakers, artists and restaurants set up shop for the morning and sell fresh, locally grown or made food. For years I bought fresh produce at the farmers market, but last year decided to step up my fresh food intake by purchasing a share in a local CSA.

The rest of the post is available on the Stay Work Play website.

McCain’s old jokes

If you’ve never seen John McCain speak in New Hampshire, you probably should. Not because I expect he’s going to present some new policy idea or take the president to task, but because you can’t really say you lived in New Hampshire until you have.


Between his two presidential runs, Sen. McCain arguable campaigned more in New Hampshire than any other national politician. I covered him in 2007 when he had that crazy campaign collapse turned victory, thanks to the fact New Hampshire seems to really love the guy — or at least New Hampshire Republicans, as was pointed out to me on Sunday.

If you’re one of the many who has seen McCain speak to a small room, town-hall style, where he answers any question no matter how crazy, you’ve also heard McCain’s jokes. He doesn’t have many, but the ones he has are not bad the first time you hear them. But they go steadily downhill upon repeating. Here are a few, roughly transcribed:

When people ask me what I did after I lost the election, I tell them I slept like a baby — sleep for an hour, wake up and cry, go back to sleep for an hour…

I like to tell the story about the two guys in the prison chow line, where one says to the other, “I liked the food in here better when you were governor.”

and the sticker

I told that joke in Illinois, but it didn’t go over well.

McCain spoke on Sunday in Concord for an event honoring the late N.H. Sen. Warren Rudman and the opening of a policy center named in his honor. Here’s the story, for Associated Press.

Best News All Day, Prison Edition


One of the stories I followed closely in the past year is the state’s decision to investigate opening a private prison in New Hampshire. More than a year ago, the state issued a request for proposals from private prison contractors and developers interested in building or renovating a prison that the private company would run for 20 years, then hand back over to the state.

Interest in the proposal was strong.

But now the state has decided to end the discussion, saying none of the proposals outlined how the prisons would comply with a number of court orders, such as how they would provide equal services for men and women prisoners. Not only did the applicants fail to provide enough information on how they would comply, but in some cases they just said they would comply with the court order and left it at that.

Looking back at the coverage last year, it is worth noting the RFP was lauded for being open-ended.

“It’s probably one of the more unique and creative (RFPs) put out for some time,” said Eli Gage, the publisher of Correctional News, a national publication that covers trends in prison construction. “The state has given the ability to leave things (a bidder) is open to do or not do, depending on what they like. Even some in the industry say it’s the best RFP they’ve seen in a while.” (from Union Leader Jan. 2012)

Apparently they thought court orders fell under the open part.

The effort to build a private prison in New Hampshire was meant to save money and probably would have been met with more support if the prison didn’t have to go somewhere. When word got out developers were thinking of building a prison in Manchester (sorry only in print?!), the aldermen tossed it up like a hot potato until it landed in Ward 8, much to the chagrin of Alderman Tom Katsiantonis.

Then activists from Arizona — not a state known for compassion when it comes to prisoners —  spoke across New Hampshire urging Legislators to kill the deal.

But the real reason for killing the deal is likely the changes in the Legislature, Executive Council and Governor’s Office, as foretold by Annmarie Timmins of the Concord Monitor in Dec. 2012.

While residents of Manchester and the other towns targeted for a new prison are likely happy about the decision, the state still has little money to spare, the prisons are still in poor condition and the courts still expect the Department of Corrections to fix its problems. I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

The Prediction Game

Some good advice I received a few years back about covering politics was that people never hold political journalists accountable for their predictions. If you call the race for one candidate and the other wins, well then you get to write about the upset. If you pick the correct horse, then you’re deemed a savvy political mind for properly crunching the data.

Another way to get in some “analysis” without taking on the prediction yourself is to get others to predict what happened. This week I tried just that by asking all the aldermen I could whether a tax cap override is possible.


Aldermen flirt with tax cap override, but refuse to commit

THE ALDERMEN INDICATED on Tuesday there may be enough votes for a tax cap override. They also made clear they don’t want to vote on it right now.

Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur made a motion at the end of Tuesday’s lengthy school budget discussion to stay within the tax cap as “a test vote.”

“I’m calling our bluff,” he said.

After a quick moment of protest, Alderman Tom Katsiantonis moved to table the item. The tabling motion passed, 10-4, with Aldermen Levasseur, Phil Greazzo, Jim Roy and Bill Shea voting no.

Later that meeting — at 12:30 a.m. — Alderman Patrick Long made a motion to override the tax cap by 1 percent. The aldermen shot each other surprised looks until Alderman Russ Ouellette made a motion to table that proposal, too. It passed, 11-3, with Long, Roy and Levasseur voting no.

The two motions will appear on the board’s agenda again this month.

Continue reading

Budget season

The longer I do it, the more I realize budget debates are all the same. The only thing that differs is the size of the fight.

The debate over the school budget has become pretty serious, with more than 200 people showing up at a budget hearing this week, followed by a three-hour aldermen hearing about schools. This column, which appeared before those hearings, got 60 comments and drew education advocates, union bashers and simple spendthrifts to the table.

After going through a tough union negotiation battle with my company this fall and winter myself, I understood that such events have an effect on morale and condition of the workplace. When you take that idea and apply it to people who educate children all day, I thought it touched on something interesting … how worrying about your job year after year affects the face you put on for the kids each day. I also wondered is it solely up to the teachers to make their workplace better or do city and school leaders have a responsibility in it too.

Threat of layoffs creates ‘terrible’ morale for school staff

The school board’s decision to pink slip 161 school staffers last week came as a surprise to some board members, who entered the chambers that evening under the assumption that the votes to pass a reduction in force were not there.

Since then, the reality has sunk in, especially for teachers, and the union leadership has met to discuss the ramifications of the layoffs. As of Wednesday, there were no plans to bring the entire union membership together to talk about concessions.

With little movement expected from either side, both school and union top officials said the vote has further chipped away at the staff’s already low morale.

“Right now, people aren’t feeling good, especially after that meeting,” said Manchester Education Association President Ben Dick.

Staff morale is “terrible,” said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan. “People are very anxious and concerned about their livelihood.”

Although the deadline for laying off teachers is not until May, Brennan said his staff will soon determine how to spread the 161 pink slips throughout the district.

“We certainly have the obligation to give all the staff time to get into the job market earlier,” said Brennan.

When those pink slips do come out, they’ll be hand delivered by Brennan, which he sees as his responsibility.

“My name is on the bottom of that page,” he said.

Mayor Ted Gatsas sees the teachers’ down attitude in another light.

“It seems as though the morale in the city (employees) was the same thing,” said Gatsas. “We came to an agreement with the unions on concessions, and it seems the morale has changed 180 degrees.”

Continue reading

Teachers getting a kick in the shins

It has been so long since one of my stories a) made it on the web b) got lots and lots of awesome comments. It felt good to be back.

School assaults on teachers raise concern

MANCHESTER — The Board of School Committee is again asking school administrators to report assaults committed at school by students to police.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Mayor Ted Gatsas presented the board with a list of about 20 incidents where students and teachers had an altercation that resulted in a worker compensation claim in September. Although teacher names were omitted, a brief description of the incidents included students biting teachers, throwing objects at teachers and headbutting teachers. There were also injuries sustained while teachers were breaking up student fights.

In September, $55,151 was paid out in workers compensation claims. About half of those claims involved student-teacher altercations. Continue reading