Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday November 5th, 2013, 3:25pm

Ames Middle School Officials, Parents Demand Meeting With CPS Over Military School Plan

Logan Square parents, residents and the Local School Council (LSC) at Ames Middle School say they want Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials to meet with them about the district's plan to affiliate their neighborhood school with the Marine Corps next year. 

Ames LSC members stressed at their meeting Tuesday morning that those from nearby feeder schools should also have an opportunity to weigh in about the decision to convert Ames, located at 1920 N. Hamlin Ave., into a military academy. Those feeder schools include John Barry Elementary, Laughlin Falconer Elementary, Kelvyn Park High School, Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary and William P. Nixon Elementary.

No CPS officials attended Ames' morning LSC meeting, although several school district representatives were reportedly invited to attend.

"Nobody has had the courtesy to come to us, the parents, constituents and, most importantly, the students that will be most affected [by this decision]," said Ames LSC member Jose Jaramillo. "We are tired of trying to fight a battle of people making decisions for our school when we are the ones that are vested and give all our time for the excellence of our community and school."

Last Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Ames would be converted into the Marine Math and Science Academy next academic year. The Marine Academy is currently co-located on Chicago's West Side with Phoenix Military Academy. Early last week, Emanuel said the plan, supported by Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), would free up more Marine Academy spots and add to his overall goal of expanding the number of military seats in the school district by 50 percent.

But school and city officials backpedaled on the plan by Thursday, saying Marine Academy would stay at its current location, at 145 S. Campbell Ave., and Ames would not close. Ames would, however, become a "Marine-affiliated school," serving 7th through 12th graders. CPS said current Ames teachers and principals would remain in place, although more teachers would be brought in for the military program and the added grade levels.

"Ames is changing its academic focus and increasing its capacity, while Marine Math and Science students have the opportunity to enroll at this school," a mayoral spokeswoman said Thursday.

At Tuesday's LSC meeting, Ames parents raised concerns about what would happen to their students currently enrolled at the school once the military program is brought in next year.

Ames Principal Turon Ivy said all current Ames students would be allowed to take part in the program next year, and there would also be general education curriculum available to them. Students would, however, be required to opt-in to some of the military-focused "traditions" and "rituals," he explained. If current students do not wish to participate, school district officials have reportedly said there would be an option for them to attend another community school, Ivy noted. CPS, however, has not yet identified which school that would be, he added.

"If we are all concerned about where our children are going to go if something happens to (Ames), or who made this decision, then we need to go out, and we need to let Mr. Maldonado know and Mr. Emanuel know that this isn't going to happen," stressed Logan Square resident Christina Torres, a parent at nearby Frederick Funston Elementary. "It's not going to happen without a fight."

Last week's announcements by the mayor and CPS did not come out of nowhere, however. Maldonado has been pushing for a military school at Ames for the past two years. The alderman's proposal has been met with fierce opposition from a large group of Ames parents and Logan Square residents who do not want to lose their neighborhood school.

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association conducted a community survey last November, which found that some 87 percent of the 357 respondents did not want a military high school at Ames.

Logan Square parents rejoiced last December when Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale assured them at a board meeting that, “There are no plans to change Ames Middle School into a military academy.”

Maldonado, however, presented a petition to the school board in April with 1,100 signatures in support of Marine Math and Science Academy coming into the community. After receiving Maldonado's petition, Vitale did an about-face and said he looked forward to working with the alderman on the project.

Anna Espinosa, a parent at McAuliffe Elementary, said it's unacceptable that parents and community members have been largely left in the dark about the conversion plan and are still confused about Ames' fate.

"What's going to happen," Espinosa asked. "We want to be part of [the decision]. We don't want to be excluded from what our students, our kids' futures are going to be."

State Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), who attended the LSC meeting, said Maldonado "is very, very wrong on this issue."

"I want to say to the mayor and I want to say to Ald. Maldonado: I may like you as my friends too, but I disagree with you on your education policies," Delgado told the crowd. "Why are we trying not to create STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] high schools, grammar schools? Why is our first option in the minority communities or communities of color militarization? And I welcome the military, don't get me wrong ... however they don't need to be here at Ames when I have three other schools shuttered in this community."

"We should be looking for the sophistication of our kids, our children. Giving them the best opportunities to go to the Harvards and Stanfords of the world, not to the war fronts, not to military interventions," Delgado continued.

Community members have stressed that if the alderman, mayor and school district officials want a military school in the area that badly, they should set it up in one of the recently closed neighborhood school buildings, such as nearby Alexander von Humboldt Elementary or Jean D. Lafayette Elementary, the latter of which may become the home of an arts-focused high school according to recent reports.

"The community does not want this military component, this military curriculum," added Torres, who is also president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association's schools facilities council. "We don't want any changes to Ames Middle School. We like it just the way is. What I think, as a parent, if you're going to invest money into a school, invest it into programs to show me as a parent how I can help my child be more successful."

Logan Square Neighborhood Association organizers and parents went canvassing around the school's neighborhood last Saturday to update residents on the alderman's "backdoor" Ames conversion proposal and to register and encourage people to vote in the next election.

Joel Monarch, a 25-year Logan Square resident and an attorney with a focus on election law, told those at Tuesday's LSC meeting that the community has an option to put the issue to voters about Ames being Marine-affiliated on the March ballot. To do so, residents would need to gather about 1,000 signatures, he said, and have them filed by mid-December. He offered to help residents craft a ballot petition that would withstand any legal challenges and also assist them in choosing precincts where voters should take up the question.

Cook County Commissioner Edwin Reyes and Logan Square activist Will Guzzardi, who is running against State Rep. Maria "Toni" Berrios (D) in the 39th district, also stood in solidarity with the Ames community Tuesday.

Guzzardi welcomed the idea of a ballot referendum, but noted that it would not be legally binding.

"The only thing that is going to change the future of our communities is getting people elected into public office who are going to fight for us," he said. "[If] we don't take it to the streets, we're going to lose this fight."

The Ames LSC is holding another meeting at the school at 4 p.m. today for those who were unable to attend the morning session. 

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