What happened to Saturday Night Live (SNL) at the Northfield Middle School?

659logo Northfield News Publisher Sam Gett wrote in column last week, SNL events axed, re: the letter to NMS parents on the cancellation of SNL: “The notice is pretty vague as to why the events are no more…” There’s no explanation on the District’s web site. The Middle School announcement page for Feb 20th only says of SNL: “All events are on hold for the remainder of the school year.” I can’t find the letter to parents that was sent out. The Northfield Community Services Youth Development page still lists SNL and the program page says: “Supervision is provided by district staff and volunteers from Carleton and St. Olaf colleges.”

Something failed, evidently, but what? And why not be more transparent about it?

35 thoughts on “What happened to Saturday Night Live (SNL) at the Northfield Middle School?”

  1. And why not be more transparent about it?

    Ummmmm…..it’s the Northfield school district you are talking about….

  2. Did any parent of a child who might have participated in the SNL program actually pick up the phone and call the middle school to ask what’s up?

    Just because no details were posted on the district website, doesn’t mean something sinister is afoot. Maybe it was budget related, maybe the college student volunteers backed out, maybe Saturday has been canceled for the remainder of the school year and as a society we’re going to six-day weeks.

    Let’s ask the parents and kids with a direct interest look into it, before we launch another thread of complaint about district communication practices. (And while I know Griff wants everything to be on a website, the telephone still works.)

  3. As I mentioned in another thread, communication on this was all-out. The memo was sent out both by e-mail and paper letters mailed home to all middle-school parents. I don’t think they necessarily need it on the website since all involved parents got at least one, if not two copies of the letter.

    I read it as “it’s too successful” – meaning, so crowded that they’re getting out of hand and too many separate activities to provide adequate supervision in multiple locations (dancing, swimming, games, etc.). I can imagine 11-14 year-olds being difficult, especially if the primary supervision is being provided by 18-21 year-olds. I’ve had a child attending SNLs for the past 3 1/2 years (two different kids!) and they sounded like they got a bit squirrely at times. I do hope they come up with some good ideas though; I think it is good to provide some semi-organized, supervised social activities for these kids. Maybe breaking them up by grade level on separate nights?

    Here’s the full text of the memo, in case you are interested:

    For several years, the Northfield
    Public Schools Community Services
    Division has sponsored the Saturday
    Night Live events providing a social
    and recreational activity for middle
    school age students. While these
    events have been enjoyed by many
    students over the past years, it is
    our experience that the number of
    students attending and the scope of
    activities occurring at these events
    have resulted in increasing challenges
    to our ability to provide a
    well-supervised, positive experience
    for all attendees.

    In an effort to take the time to
    redesign what we at Community Services
    can offer for middle school students,
    we have decided to place the Saturday
    Night Live events on hold for the
    remainder of the school year. During
    that time we will seek input from
    Northfield Middle School staff,
    students and parents so that we can
    determine what our middle school
    programming should be. We will also
    conduct research with other school
    districts to learn about effective
    programming that is successful in
    their districts.

    We appreciate your patience as we go
    through this process and we encourage
    you to contact us if you are
    interested in participating in the
    feedback process.

    Please feel free to contact me with
    any questions.

    I did not follow up with any questions; I felt I knew enough.

  4. Griff, Kathie and Peter,
    Could we perhaps back off a bit on the public-school-bashing? I don’t think immediately, publicly assuming the worst of our public schools at all times on the thinnest of information helps our kids thrive.

    In the other thread in which there have been healthy doses of gratuitous, inaccurate public-school-bashing, Peter, you say (comment 114):

    I think most of us agree that the
    current sytem is broke.

    You might be surprised, but I’m not at all convinced that “most of us” here in Northfield would agree that the (public school) system is broke. Sure, it’s not perfect, and there are many ways in which it could be improved, but it actually serves most kids surprisingly well, IMHO. I think a healthy majority of the local population would agree with me that, while not perfect, the local public schools do a generally very good job of educating our kids at a time when many of the traditional supports for education (e.g. respect for educators, parental support of teachers’ authority, etc.) have eroded. The public-school-bashing that has been regular sport for both the political left and right in recent decades has done serious harm to our public schools.

    My two kids have gotten an excellent education attending Northfield public schools from kindergarten through high school. They have both enjoyed, and been challenged by, many of their classes and teachers. They do not see the administration as a dark force oppressing and manipulating the populace.

    My wife and I have also taken our role as parents seriously in ensuring that the schools are not alone in educating our kids. Serious parental involvement will probably always have a lot more to do with how kids thrive educationally and socially than the school/school system they attend.

  5. I heard from a parent who volunteered at the SNL events that there were incidents that were more serious than indicated by the school’s vague note. Since rumors are inevitable in a situation like this, I think a more explicit note would have been wise.

    That said, like Bruce, I’m tiring of gratuitous school bashing. Of course I don’t agree with every policy of the school’s. We have two children who are grads of NHS, and one current student. My impression of school administrators and teachers is that they are hard working, sincere and competent people who occasionally don’t do things exactly the way I’d like them to. That’s life….

  6. Randy, evidently Sam Gett, Northfield News editor and publisher who writes a regular column titled ‘Middle School Dad,’ hasn’t picked up the phone nor sent a reporter to investigate after wondering about the District’s ‘vague’ explanation. I think he probably knows that they’ll get more of the same spin. So by blogging it here, I’m opening up a line of communications for others who may have more information.

    Susan, thanks a ton for posting the text of the letter!

    Bruce, I don’t think my blogging about this nor my blogging about the district’s communications failings constitutes public-school bashing. I’m critical with the intent to be constructive. I also regularly blog about District programs and decisions that I support.

    The District has a 20th century communications mentality that may have worked in the past but the world has changed and they’re not adapting.

  7. Griff, seriously… Sam Gett might have sent a reporter to “investigate”? What’s to investigate? The district communicated directly and, according to Susan, pretty effectively, with the appropriate parents. They are launching a process to review this program. If any of those parents want more exhaustive details or want to dispel rumors, they can ask. There are two genuine invitations to contact the school for more information included in the letter. If people (especially people who have no stake in this program) would rather gossip and speculate than call the school and ask, is that the school’s fault?

  8. I neither fully agree or disagree with many of the comments here. I would say, in this case, the rationale and communication by the district were enough. There are other cases, like the thread to which Bruce Anderson refers, where I have criticized the district for employing a slanted survey, then actually using the results of the survey as if they were valid.

    As a public school kid myself, with three children (one grad of NHS, one currently in NHS, and one at Prairie Creek)and a father who taught in public high schools, I consider myself to be a supporter of Northfield’s public schools and public schools in general. This hardly means we have to enthusiastically support every decision the district makes.

    Whatever happened to “case-by-case”? I’d rather not be classified as either an unquestioning yes-man or knee-jerk hater. I don’t think anyone else would either. I wish people would stop assuming that someone despises the public schools just because they air a grievance about one matter or another.

  9. Brendon,
    You say

    I wish people would stop assuming that
    someone despises the public schools
    just because they air a grievance
    about one matter or another.

    I don’t assume that, and I’m sorry if I gave that impression. My sole point is that while it’s certainly a good thing to be engaged in trying to change the public schools (or any other entity, for that matter), airing a grievance in a highly public and inflammatory manner, often based on little information or outright incorrect information (i.e. the hysterical response to the number of teacher release days being increased from 10 to 12 — NOT CORRECT — in the other thread; the basis for this thread: that parents were not informed about the SNL cancellation — NOT CORRECT) is more likely to hurt than help the cause of positive change.

    I know Griff started this thread with the intention of highlighting what he perceives as poor communication practices by the school district, but I think overreaction hurts rather than helps. Who are you more likely to want to work cooperatively with, someone who you perceive as attacking you unfairly, or someone who engages in a more cooperative manner?

  10. Bruce A.,

    Understood. I was feeling a little defensive about what I perceived to be rather global accusations that disagreement with the district could be equated with a generalized hatred or distrust of all public school officials, teachers or policies.

    As I said, I try to take things on a case-by-case basis.

    Thank you for clarifying your point. I understand it better and agree with you.

  11. Bruce,
    In this particular thread I was “bashing” the school administration and school board for poor communication.

    Which just happens to coincide with another thread, where the very same board and administrator have put teacher’s interest above the interest of students and parents.

    In connection with this I pointed out that OUR students are lagging behind against standards set by other industralized nations.
    Sorry that you don’t like it, but those are the facts. To under score my assumptions I have posted several links to prove my point.
    The sooner we admit these facts the sooner we can fix them.
    Personally I am tired of the excuses made by all in this regard while at the same time see my property taxes go up 12% (despite loss of home value) to finance an extra hour of morning coffee.

  12. Peter,
    Funny things, facts. What you often seem to view as “facts” don’t seem particularly factual to me.

    In this particular thread I was
    “bashing” the school administration
    and school board for poor
    communication.

    Well, it’s a fact that you were bashing the school administration and school board when you, on extremely limited information (misinformation?) opined “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” However, it is not a fact that they actually engaged in poor communication. As Susan Canon pointed out at length in post 4, Northfield Public Schools Community Service Division sent letters and e-mails to all middle school parents. Seems like reasonably good communication to me. Sorry, but that’s my fact.

    Which just happens to coincide with another thread, where the very same board and administrator have put teacher’s interest above the interest of students and parents.

    That’s hardly a fact. Strictly your (misguided in my opinion) opinion. Sorry. Not a fact.

    In connection with this I pointed out
    that OUR students are lagging behind
    against standards set by other
    industralized nations.

    Well, we’re at least getting closer to factual territory here. It is true that, by some measures, US students perform more poorly, on average, than students in SOME OTHER industrialized nations. I’m certainly no scholar of this issue, but a brief perusal of the Web guided me to what seems to be a reasonably reliable study by the Institute for Education Statistics
    ([Highlights From PISA 2006: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Science and Mathematics Literacy in an International Context
    U. S. Department of Education
    NCES 2008-016].1) There are similar PISA reports from 2003 focused on mathematics literacy and from 2000 on reading literacy. Having briefly scanned the studies’ results, I think it’s fair to say the following:

    • US students performed, on average, a bit more poorly than the overall average for the 30 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development–broadly speaking, North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea) nations in science, math and reading. Not the worst, by any means, but not near the top, either.
    • Socioeconomic status, race, and immigrant status seem to play an important role in how students in the US performed. For example, white US students performed significantly better than the OECD average, while black and Hispanic students performed significantly poorer than the OECD average. No surprise there, as there is a well-documented performance gap in schools around the country. None of the other countries has anything like the racial diversity and immigrant-student-related challenges we face here in US schools.
    • Student performance is quite good in countries with a variety of forms of government, including some of the European social-democratic countries you like to rail against, Peter, as well as countries such as Japan and Korea.
    • The Finns kick ass in science.

    Getting back to the more specific issue of (Northfield) public-school bashing, I again assert that students in Northfield are educated quite well. My opinion only, not a fact. Sorry.

  13. Oh, Peter, I meant to address the following as well:

    Personally I am tired of the excuses made by all in this regard while at the same time see my property taxes go up 12% (despite loss of home value)

    Well, you might want to complain to Governor (and soon-to-be presidential candidate) T-Paw about his no new taxes stance which has pushed numerous government services and expenses down to the local level (the buck has to stop somewhere). That’s the source of most of the increase.

    and

    to finance an extra hour of morning coffee.

    Now, that’s just flat out a gratuitous insult directed at our community’s teachers. Not a fact. Shame on you.

  14. After I posted last night I decided to send my thought about separate activities by grade level to the Community Ed Director. She responded first thing this morning, thanking me for my comment and said they are forming a task force of students, parents and staff to design a new approach to providing social and recreational activities for middle schoolers. I’d say if anyone has an interest, they should contact her; she seems quite open to ideas and participation.

    Curt, I do agree that the vast majority of our teachers and administrators have good intentions and are hard working and competent. I think Griff may have a point about 20th century communication…but good communication takes time – and good timing! I think the district probably lacks both of those things.

  15. Bruce,

    I understand your denial when it comes to school performance.If one is used to only one way of life and thinking it is quiet difficult to look at oneself to see the reality.
    I also appreciate your defensive posture on this issue, since you are directly affected by it.

    This stance is not very productive, since it bars us from coming up with better solutions. There are certain “sacred cows” the left doesn’t want to talk about. Any attempt of a discussion of those ends up with name calling and circling the wagon.

    These issues are education, war on poverty, social security and national health care.Despite real facts and mostly failure or mediocrity in this areas the left tends to get defensive about them.
    Despite evidence of failure there is no room for an open discussion, unless people agree on the status quo.

    If you want to know how far our education has become stupefied I suggest you take a look at some older curriculum’s and compare them to today.

    Thank you for confirming that our students are lagging behind, most of your points confirm just that.

    Unless we put common sense above ideology we will never solve these problems.

  16. Well, you might want to complain to
    Governor (and soon-to-be presidential
    candidate) T-Paw about his no new
    taxes stance which has pushed numerous
    government services and expenses down
    to the local level (the buck has to
    stop somewhere). That’s the source of
    most of the increase.

    Do you really believe things would and will be different under somebody else?
    Don’t you understand that is not about Democrats and Republicans anymore?
    This is about an irresponsible and out of touch legislator in general, that is more interested in protecting their own interest and re-election then to do what is right.

    I am neither a Republican or Democrat…. I am an American first.

    1. Anthony- I think you have something there. Having 3 daughters and a daughter-in-law that have/are teaching in public schools, it seems their greatest challenge was motivating the young people to just desire to learn. I heard someone years ago talking about the concept, “Why can’t Johnny read?” He said that the reason Johnny can’t read is that Johnny doesn’t give a rip whether he can read or not. I’m not sure where the antagonism toward higher education entered in, but I think it has been a subtle thing. I percieve this attitude in my home-town area, but that is getting pretty close to red-neck country. I have always attributed the attitudes there to the red-neck disdain toward “rev’nooers.” Another thing that I perceive in the college students we have contact with is a kind of hopelessness that they have spent thousands of dollars on a higher education that is suddenly of no value in the business world. It is unfortunate.

  17. Peter, I am not going to respond to your continual public education bashing. Your approach is part of the radical right wing Republicans attempt to dismantle the public school system to save money for all the rich, over-compensated, hedge-fund robbing rich guys.

    Our Northfield students have gone on to great success and this has been for decades. Yes, some students get missed–but our overall success rate speaks for itself. We can and should do better, and I think our school board and teachers are working to that goal. (I think the administration can take less credit.)

    That said, I asked my middle school daughter why she thinks that they suspended SNL, and she said it was because of all the fights. She described mostly boys but some girls getting into fist fights, many times for no or obscure reasons.

    I think parents love dumping their kids at SNL, and some (not many) parents have missed giving their kids the proper message on what constitutes acceptable behavior when they are at the school using our public facility. There are college students, parents and faculty supervising, but there are a large number of kids that are not under normal restrictions of following a set schedule–so it is difficult to have enough supervision for all. May understanding is that the majority of attendees were well behaved, but it doesn’t take many fights to cause a lot of trouble.

    I really appreciated SNL for my kids, and I hope they can come up with a plan to keep it going. I think it is unfortunate that the bad behavior of a few has caused this program to be suspended, and I think the parent letter was fine–I am glad they identified a problem and are trying to fix it.

  18. Peter, I am not going to respond to
    your continual public education
    bashing. Your approach is part of the
    radical right wing Republicans attempt
    to dismantle the public school system
    to save money for all the rich,
    over-compensated, hedge-fund robbing
    rich guys.

    Attitudes and opinions like these are partially to blame why we won’t be able to fix the current issues.
    This is just more of the same “those means right wing rich hedge fund managers”, while completely ignoring the fact that pretty much all people with money send their kids to private schools…..including the political elite…including your hero Obama.

    He wants to keep the children of the poor in failing public schools while he sends his kids to elite schools.
    In the meantime the little people fight over who is more right (or left).
    Priceless.

  19. ok, whos fault is is that our educational system is failing

    kids – YES
    parents – YES
    teachers – YES
    legislators – YES
    administration – YES
    the community – YES
    american society – YES
    peter — YES
    me — YES

    look! everyone is to blame, and EVERYONE has to work together to become an academic superpower again.

  20. To Jane Moline, who said, “our overall success rate speaks for itself,” no, it doesn’t. It speaks to the fact that Northfield has an extraordinarily large percentage of professors’ children, who would likely be academically successful if the schools they attended taught them nothing at all. Which was pretty much the case when my son started school here — we pulled him out after fifth grade and sent him to Blake. As one of his teachers told us, “You’ve got to get him out of here. The only thing he’s learning is that it’s normal to pay attention 10 percent of the time.”

    How do Northfield’s schools rate if they’re disaggregated by demographic data? If the news were good, they’d being telling us, right?

    Also to Jane — she may look at the world through a (far-left) political lens, but not everyone thinks primarily about politics. It does not strengthen one’s argument to attribute one’s own motives to others. Nor are the people who believe that American education as a whole is bloated and unresponsive to parents’ concerns motivated by “trying to save money” for hedge-fund managers.

  21. Once again, AP has said it all in a succinct manner, with a big touch of wry , but very serious, humor.
    Yeah…… let’s quit all the highflying BS and speechifying, and get it together. It’s our future; it deserves it!

  22. NCLB was a good law with a bunch of bad additions-additions that people in the Bush administration discussed as guaranteeing the “failure” of public schools.

    Peter, you are right about Washington DC and California where the public school systems have failed. But Minnesota is doing much better than that, and we should expect it to be the best choice–but that means staying involved, going to meetings, and lobbying for reform. Otherwise, the rich get private education and the rest of america fails.

    For the American dream to be revived, we need to have a free and appropriate education for all of our young citizens. (Free and appropriate are legal terms–don’t lecture me that education is not free. I know it is not free–but it should be free to every student. It is our responsibility to educate all students–not just my student.)

  23. Let’s keep the main conversation here focused on SNL. Use the threading feature (‘reply’ link) if you’d like to talk about the larger educational issues by responding to someone’s comment.

  24. If the real reason that SNL was canceled was because of all the fights, why not be more explicit about it instead of the obfuscatory (I love that word!):

    … it is our experience that the number of students attending and the scope of activities occurring at these events have resulted in increasing challenges to our ability to provide a well-supervised, positive experience for all attendees.

    It also seems likely that there would have been some attempts to deal with the problem short of abrupt cancellation. What were those attempts? What happened?

    I’d like to emphasize that I applaud the District for even having a program like SNL.  And without knowing more, I’m not blaming them for the problems or the failure of attempts to deal with the problems. I’m only being critical of the communications about it all.

  25. Do they need bouncers? I would be willing to lend some muscle to the program. Mark Mokoff and I would do the job nicely.

  26. Hey Griff, quit inserting your editorial comments right after my response to others’ thread drift–you’re making me look bad.

    I have to say I have admired the SNL supervision and staffing–they get some college kids. I don’t think they need bouncers, but Anthony would be my first choice.

    I think there is just such a large concentration of kids that it is a real crowd–and if you know anything about crowd control, you might need one-on-one or at least a big horse to really maintain control. I think that is the main problem–can they provide a safe environment consistently–I really think they break up the fights as soon as reasonable–the idea would be to set it up so that there are no fights to begin with. Some of these kids think they are in “Fight Club”-so it takes spotting them before it happens.

    Regardless, I think that the staff at the Middle School have really done a great job–they have sort of caused their own problem by making it so attractive that everybody wants to be there–and stuffing all those kids into the recreational area is just too much.

  27. In today’s Northfield News, David Henke has a story titled School cancels Saturday Night Live for rest of year.

    Several times the Northfield Police Department responded to calls from the middle school during Saturday Night Live, according to Northfield Police Chief Mark Taylor and School Liaison Officer Thad Monroe. At the most recent SNL session on Jan. 24, an assault report was filed with the police after a fist-fight broke out between two students.

  28. I tend to agree with Jane. SNL is, in theory, a good idea, but when you get large crowds of middle-school youth together in semi-structured activities, some problems are likely to occur. And the crowds were quite large. I expect NMS wasn’t less obfuscatory in their explanation, because I doubt that it was one fight that led to the cancellation. From what I have heard, there was a pattern of behavior that was making the events less stable and controllable.

  29. I am late getting into this discussion. Putting all politics aside:

    I am a parent of a 6th grade girl at the NMS. When I received the letter sent home to parents, I emailed Principal Pesta the next day. That very same night, Mr. Pesta called us at home, and had a wonderful discussion with my husband, explaining what was going on with SNL. He was forthcoming and polite. He asked if he could send our name along to a new committee being formed to revamp SNL for next year. we said of course. We are ready and willing to step up, not sit back and complain. SNL is run in conjunction with community ed, and community ed is involved in planning the events.

    After David Henke’s very welcome and illuminating article in the Northfield News, (which I already knew because I had emailed the principal), I also emailed the lady at community ed in charge of this committee (Jennifer I think). I told her my husband and I wanted to help. She emailed me back immediately, already had my name from Principal Pesta, and was happy to have me and my husband on board.

    We are putting our money where our mouths are, so to speak, even it means I am spending my friday nights with a group of middle schoolers, chaperoning. (Not my fave thing to do I admit, but if this is going to continue, I suspect that it needs community involvement from responsible parents). That is what makes a good public school system.

    Politics aside and irrelevant — just show up. join the revamping committee, and then follow through and attend the SNLs if and when you are needed. that is my plan.

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