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Ames struggle continues as voters vote two to one in support of the real Ames... Logan Square voters slap down phony claims of Alderman Maldonado, Mayor Emanuel, Board President Vitale and his minions, CPS 'CEO' Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Military Programs 'Director' Todd Connor

Fighting to keep Ames Middle School a neighborhood school, voters in precincts around Ames voted overwhelmingly against Ames being converted to a selective enrollment Marine Military Academy -- as desired by the powers-that-be -- in a referendum on Ames on Election Day, March 18, 2014. The special referendum was held for voters from the 1st, 26th and 35th wards who live in eight precincts surrounding Ames. The voters voted by 78.87 percent, 64.47 percent, and 69.66 percent, respectively (totaling 68.6 percent of all votes), to keep Ames a neighborhood school. The Board of Education had voted to turn Ames into a Marine Military Academy at its December 18, 2013 meeting despite massive community opposition. But the community has refused to give up.

Marines at Ames on election day, March 18, 2014.While this referendum is not legally binding on the Board of Education, community activists who had placed the issue on the ballot by garnering over 2,400 signatures on petitions, now say that it shows that the Board's decision to militarize Ames -- and claims of "community" support from 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado -- were false.

Ames Middle School, at 1920 N. Hamlin in Logan Square, Chicago, is one of the newest buildings in Logan Square. It opened in 1998, and was built after extensive public demand for a new school to replace overcrowded ones. Particularly over the past three years, extensive community involvement has energized the students and the entire community around the school, leading to improving student engagement, provision of services (such as a medical clinic), and a strong determination to keep Ames a neighborhood school. Students have been in the forefront of fighting to keep their school a neighborhood school, supported throughout by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and community residents.

The Ames community is predominantly a Latino working class community. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons CPS (Chicago Public Schools) leaders and the Mayor have consistently mistreated this community. Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward), who tries to portray himself as a community leader but is one of those who think they run the area, has repeatedly refused to speak to community members as well as reporters (including this one) about the situation at Ames.

Among the unusual public supporters who came to the Board of Education on behalf of Alderman Maldonado's claim that the Marine Military Academy would be good for the students of Ames Middle School was Walter "Slim" Coleman, who is now pastor of a Methodist church several miles from Ames. At the December 18, 2013 Board meeting, Coleman claimed that he had seen that students exercised "choice" on behalf of the Marine Military Academy because it provided discipline that real public school didn't have. Coleman's trashing of the city's real public schools, their teachers and students was part of the propaganda campaign encouraged by the Board to vote for the Ames changes. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Additionally, one of the acts of the Alderman was to try to build support by initiating robo-calls to voters last summer, describing Ames as gang-ridden, an act that has been denounced with disgust by Ames activists. Maldonado also appeared at Board of Education meetings with a small group of colleagues and some widely known outsiders who claimed to represent the support by the "community" for the militarization at Ames.

Maldonado, who as far as this reporter can ascertain never served in the U.S. military, thinks turning Ames into a military academy will address discipline problems he apparently observed during one visit years ago. Maldonado apparently never thought that adding teachers and making classes smaller might allow for more attention and support to be given to students, so as to address any problems in a respectful, supportive manner rather than imposing solutions through military discipline.

But turning Ames into a selective enrollment middle and high school going from 7th and 8th grades to 7th-12th grades, and only allowing a limited number of students into the proposed military academy will not solve the discipline problems Maldonado thinks he observed years ago. In fact, students who have disciplinary problems real or imagined probably will be excluded from the proposed military academy, either by policy or because their grades/test scores wont be high enough for admission.

Community leaders supporting Ames have long maintained that Maldonado's claims were a scam. They charged that the proposal had nothing to do with the issues and concerns of Logan Square parents and the need for high quality education for all of their children. The new military school will remove one middle school that is on the up-swing and is working, and has awesome community support. Why? According to Ames middle school supporters, so that Maldonado and others can profit from the $7 MILLION dollars that is said to be needed to renovate the building. The school is in-good-shape.

The Board of Education voted to closed 49 schools (on orders from Mayor Rahm Emanuel) at its May 22, 2013 meeting. Ames was not one of those. Since then, community supporters argued, it would make more sense to improve the existing school. This, Ames supporters argue, is especially important since the mayor is determined to funnel poor and working class kids into the military, although his own children go to the University of Chicago Lab School, which does not and will not have a military component.

Changing Ames from a neighborhood school is forcing 7th and 8th graders, who would have formerly gone to Ames, to transfer to a new program at Kelvyn Park High School. Supposedly separate from the high school, it like most CPS operations seems unlikely to work as offered. Other elementary schools will be even more overcrowded if their students stay for 7th and 8thlike at McAuliffeinstead of going to Kelvyn Park.

Besides lying about their motives and claiming that they care of all of Chicagos public school students, CPS officials have lied numerous times to Ames activists. In December 2012 Board of Education meeting, Board President David Vitale told community members that there were no plans to convert Ames to a military academy.

CPS officials held a phony meeting with the community at McAuliffe Elementary school on December 11, 2013 that this reporter covered (www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=4674ion=Article), ostensibly to begin the conversation when the deal had already been decided by CPS officials, and was officially affirmed by a 5-2 vote at a Board of Education meeting the following week, on December 18, 2013.

CPS official Todd Connor, at that December 11th meeting, also said that all of Ames current students could stay at Ames if they accepted the military program. But subsequently, students have been told that current Ames students could compete for spots in the military school.

CPS officials have also refused to attend community meetings, even those formally called by the Local School Council (LSC). Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Maldonado each refused to attend, despite being invited. Demand for information was such that the LSC held two meetings one in the morning, and one after school on November 5 so as to inform the Ames community of the situation, and asked CPS officials to attend the meeting held at the school. None attended the morning meeting, and only the head of military programs for CPS attended the later meeting.

Despite repeated rebuffs, Ames activists mobilized political support for their cause. State Senator Willie Delgado, based in Logan Square, head of the Illinois State Senates Education Committee and opponent of conversion, came and spoke at the morning meeting, as did then-candidate for State Representative Will Guzzardi (who was elected on March 18). David Stone, writing for Substance, filed a report about the meetings: www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=4598. It was at this meeting that the LSC supported the petition drive to put the issue on the ballot, strongly supported by Ames parents and students. Subsequently, Ames activists have garnered formal political support by Proco Joe Moreno, Alderman of the 1st Ward, and then-Cook County Commissioner Eddie Reyes.

Instead of honoring the wishes of the LSC, CPS officials disbanded the LSC in February 2014. There is no LSC election coming up at Ames.

CPS has tried to undercut opposition to the military academy. David Stone gave a strong background and reported developments in January 2014: www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=4768=Article .

Ames activists have spent Saturday mornings over the past two months in the freezing weather of Winter 2014 going door-to-door in the area around Ames, talking with voters. When this reporter joined activists, he saw that the community supported keeping Ames a neighborhood school. (See www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=4781ion=Article.)

Subsequently, Labor Beat produced an excellent 16 minute video that illuminated resistance efforts by Ames students and documented Ames activists to build community support for the school: www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeZrrR8EzLc.

This struggle also attracted the interest of the Chicago Readers Ben Joravsky, one of the best reporters in the city. Joravsky illuminated the goings-on in a February 25th article: www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/rahm-turns-ames-school-into-military-academy/Content?oid=12609484. (Joravsky also evaluated the results of the March 18th primary, noting the Mayors losses: www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2014/03/19/mayor-rahm-loses-in-primary-election.)

Ames activists also have brought the fight to the Board of Educations monthly meetings. Before speaking at the monthly meeting, the activists held a lively press conference on the first floor of the CPS headquarters: www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=4843ion=Article.

All of this hard work and it has been hard work to organize, build and sustain resistance in the face of the lies, distortions, and manipulations by those in power (and with terribly inadequate if not wrong coverage by the Tribune and Sun-Times, plus much of the electronic media) has paid off with the victory in the March 18, 2014 referendum. Whatever CPS and other officials say now, they can no longer honestly say that the community supports the military academy scam, because again and again, the community has shown it does not want Ames to be turned into a military academy.

What will happen now? Honestly, no one knows.

If the Mayor was as smart as he thinks he is, hed pull the plug on this scam; somehow, I doubt this is likely to happenafter all, we cant let any mere people defeat the Emperor. Alderman Maldonado has to decide what hes going to do, because he has to face the voters in 2015, and hes got a pack of activists who are not too pleased with himand theyve shown they can successfully operate in the electoral arena.

The Guzzardi victory in State Representative District 39, one of two where the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) got involved, can only encourage the CTU, which will not help the Mayor nor Maldonado. Not only that, but as people organize across the city against CPS and the scummy politicians who enable their nonsense, the victory by Ames activists is sure to encourage them.

Time to cut your losses, Poo Bahs?

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



Comments:

March 22, 2014 at 8:23 PM

By: Edward Helms

Is this really going to happen?

George, do you truly think this is going to happen? Isn't it too risky for the Mayor? Would love to hear your thoughts?

March 23, 2014 at 7:34 AM

By: GeorgeN. Schmidt

Ames destruction a 'done deal' by Rahmoids

I know it is the season to believe in resurrections, but I doubt we will see one for Ames. The destruction of Ames Middle School and the disruption of Kelvyn Park High School and the real elementary schools adjacent to Ames is already a done deal. The Board of Education voted to do it, which gives the lie the force of law. Since January, despite the Ames protest (and now the referendum) the planning for next year is all on the basis of the done deal. Despite the fact that everyone supporting Ames can list a dozen lies told by David Vitale, the members of the Board, Barbara Byrd Bennett's administration and the Maldonao entourage, Ames is doomed. Think historically. After the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, one of the (many) ways Rahm decided to get the teachers (and Karen Lewis) was to close 50 of the city's real elementary schools, behind the smokescreen of "underutilization." Of course, in November 2012, nobody was saying that the Board would, by May 22, 2013, vote to close 50 schools because Rahm's magic number was 50. No. The entire city had to go through the extension of the deadlines for school closings, the "commission" hearings, testimony and protests by more than 30,000 people (did anyone at any of the hearings testify legitimately in support of the closings), and finally all that sanctimonious nonsense about how closing all those building was to save money even though it doesn't.

In dictatorial politics whether in Berlin in 1938 or Chicago in 2014, reality is perception, and Hollywood is providing the definitive version of Rahm's Triumph of the Will. After all, in an age of austerity, some tough guy has to make the touch decisions. Just ask the Hollywood Emanuel, of the Sun-Times, or Robert Redford...

Next question.

March 24, 2014 at 10:24 AM

By: Albert Korach

AMES DESTRUCTION ?

George! I have to agree with you. It only seems that the Ames School issue is settled for now. (Or is it?) I always felt that if they kicked the military out and things did not turn out right we can always do what this country has done in the past. CALL OUT THE MARINES!

March 24, 2014 at 6:34 PM

By: John Whitfield

What's settled? Which side are you on?

It may be so, but why send the board the wrong message. Senn took on an honorable mssion, with a 'Save Senn' coalition to let it be know to the whole world that they did not want the Navy militarizing their school. People have their hopes up that their vote to not have Ames militarized would be meaningful. they didn't vote to kick the military out, but to not let the military in. Which side are you on? Which side are you on?

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