Ames Community Assembles at CPS Headquarters: We Demand Open, Transparent and Democratic Decision-making; Respect for the Students; and Keep Our School a Neighborhood School!

Those troublesome parents, students and neighborhood supporters of Ames Middle School (1921 N. Hamlin in Logan Square) — the “SAVE AMES COMMITTEE!” — showed up to again pressure the Chicago Board of Education to treat them respectfully, and not like a bunch of serfs, on February 26, 2014, both downstairs for a press conference and speaking out during the Board meeting. These people are fighting to keep Ames a neighborhood school, refusing to quietly allow the CPS mafia to make it a selective enrollment Marine military academy against their collective wishes.

Surrounded by some of the supporters of Ames Middle School, Delia Bonilla tells the Board of Education that its decision to make Ames into a Military Academy was based on a number of lies. Bonilla told the Board that the actual Ames community will be voting in an advisory referendum on March 18, and that they expected that the future of Ames would win to keep the school as a middle school and to reject the Marine Military Academy which has been occupying Ames for the past few months. Bonilla and others from Ames also told the Board that Alderman Roberto Maldonado, who produced a number of fraudulent claims supposedly supporting the Marine incursion into Ames, does not represent the community. Two other aldermen and a Cook County Commissioner have now publicly stated that they oppose Maldonado's version of the future of Ames. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Ames supporters—somewhere around 70 people—assembled to hold a 9:45 am press conference on the first floor of the CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark Street on Wednesday, February 26. They later went upstairs to participate in the Board of Education’s meeting.

This time, they had the public support of Edwin Reyes, Cook County Commissioner of the 8th District. Reyes, who is running for re-election and who is a US Air Force veteran, spoke eloquently in support of the Ames community. He pointed out that this is being portrayed as just an issue for the 26th Ward of Alderman Roberto Maldonado when, in reality, it involves parents and students from the 1st and 35th Wards (Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno and Rey Colon, respectively), as well as the 26th; neither of the other two Aldermen were consulted on this issue.

Reyes noted that neighborhood supporters had gathered over 2400 signatures on petitions during the cold weather. This qualified to hold an advisory referendum for the eight precincts that surround Ames during the March 18th Primary, to let the community members decide whether or not they want Ames to remain a neighborhood school. (People have been going out every Saturday morning to talk with their neighbors about the issues.)

Another issue advanced by Reyes and others is that CPS is going to spend $7 million to make Ames a military school. This is for one of the most modern buildings in Logan Square. People brought up that there were other schools in the general area that were now empty, and that $7 million could be better spent rehabilitating these schools, and therefore the proposed Marine academy could go in one of them.

Community members again stressed how there has been no democratic process in deciding this issue. They have been fighting for over two years to keep their school. There has been no discussion for Alderman Maldonado, and he refuses to meet with community members.

Maldonado has been unwilling to meet with the press, either. This reporter has sought two separate interviews with Maldonado, but was refused even the courtesy of a response. Other reporters have ben ignored as well.

One of the best things about the campaign to keep Ames a neighborhood school has been the development of student leaders. A couple spoke this morning — their names I did not get — but they were clear, determined and quite eloquent. One of the students pointed out that the CPS “story” about Ames to students had changed: “They said originally that all students now at Ames and who wanted to stay at Ames could stay if they accepted the military program; now we been hearing from our friends at the ‘feeder’ schools that they are saying only 200 current students can stay, and that they have to compete for those seats.”

Yet parents are speaking out as well. One I heard was Christina Torres, a parent of a child at Funston Elementary. Torres has lived in Logan Square for 25 years. While Funston is a K-8 school, and one that does not feed into Ames, Torres was there, supporting the Ames community. When challenged by another reporter if she would send her kids to Ames, Torres didn’t hesitate: “if Funston only went to 6th grade, I would be glad to have my children attend Ames.”

Provided to reporters at the press conference were presented copies of printed statements, including from Delia Bonilla, Vice President of the Ames LSC (Local School Council). Ms. Bonilla’s statement—which was to be presented to the Board of Education afterwards—asked the Board to wait until the results of the March 18th referendum are in before moving forward: “… we all respectfully request that the Board take no action, and sign no contracts that would bind CPS to convert Ames to a military school, until after the March 18th results when voters will decisively declare their sentiments regarding the proposed school conversion.” She later asked in her statement, “Can you please give us at least 2 ½ weeks?”

The Save Ames Committee, as they formally call themselves, also presented three letters signed by local elected officials. Illinois State Senator William “Willie” Delgado of the 2nd District (which includes Logan Square), and chairperson of the Senate Education Committee, submitted a signed letter. Delgado had been present at a public LSC meeting a couple of months ago, eloquently stating his opposition to the conversion of Ames. He formally advanced his position in his letter.

Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) noted that at Ames, “ … the students and their parents are active and engaged.”

Noting that they are in close touch with others in the area, Moreno also noted that the attitudes of the community has been expressed by two different means: “through a private vote during the most recent report card pickup day (95%) and through petitions containing 2,400 signatures, which were collected door-to-door.”

Edwin Reyes noted in his letter, “This conversion [of Ames into a Marine academy-KS] was initiated by the 26th Ward Alderman and OK’d by the Mayor, but without any advanced consultation with parents, teachers, students or local residents.”

This reporter talked with Reyes for a few minutes after the press conference. Reyes took a strong position against what is happening at Ames: “Parents are here, at the forefront of the people, expressing their positions. This is a ‘tragedy’ against the will of the people.

Reyes pointed out that elected officials should lead, should advance the interests of their constituents. Clearly that was a slap at Maldonado.

When asked thought if this was really another example of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership and attitude toward democracy, Reyes agreed. “Again,” he said, “there is this refusal to listen to the will of the people.”

[Kim Scipes is the chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union, UAW #1981, and is a long-time resident of Logan Square].


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