Ames community down but not out in fight to save neighborhood school

CPS, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Roberto Maldonado announced in October Ames Middle School will be converted into a military academy. Parents, students and community members have been working to keep Ames a neighborhood school.

Mauricio Peña/MEDILL

As good fights go, residents around Ames Middle School in Logan Square thought they fought it already when they urged Chicago Public Schools to open it to alleviate overcrowding in the '90s.

Since CPS — backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) — decided to turn the beloved neighborhood school into a military academy, residents have done everything a community can do to keep it as is. Next up: A non-binding referendum March 18 will allow residents to decide definitively what the Ames community wants.

Gayle Sturm and Rachel Resendiz canvas the 26th ward registering and informing voters on the referendum to keep Ames Middle School a community school.

Mauricio Peña/MEDILL

The ballot will read: “Should Ames Middle School be maintained as a neighborhood school, rather than being converted into a military high school?”

Until then, parents, students, staff and community members will ask the Chicago Board of Education Feb. 18 to postpone any further decisions about Ames until after the election.

“It’s not a fight we should be having,” said Christian Diaz, Logan Square Neighborhood Association youth organizer. “As a community we made it happen. Now for them to take this community school and convert it to a military academy is a violation of trust and our interest.”

The Logan Square School Facilities Council presented CPS with two separate survey findings that showed 87 percent of Ames parents support keeping it a neighborhood school.

Former Ames student, Raul Arias, has canvassed the streets of the 3rd, 26th and 35th wards five times to register voters and inform the community about the Ames referendum. The senior at Marine Math and Science Academy, along with a group of 300 students, parents and community volunteers have hit the streets every day since late January to gain referendum support to keep Ames a neighborhood school.

“We are fighting because we don’t want it here,” Arias said. “Students want to live normal lives, not have to live up to military criteria.”

Despite public opposition, Mayor Emanuel, Maldonado and Todd Connor, CPS executive director of military programs, will proceed with the $7 million conversion of the Logan Square school this summer.

Community volunteer Gayle Sturm has attended countless meetings for the past two years when rumors regarding the change started floating around.

“We are here doing what we can to keep the schools the way we want to keep the school,” Sturm said. “No one is thinking about the consequences.”

After the closure of 50 Chicago public schools in 2013, students have been suggesting alternative means of incorporating a military academy.

“There’s two abandoned schools in Humboldt Park,” Arias said. “Why not move the military academy to one of those schools?”

Students not interested in attending the military academy would have the option to attend other neighborhood schools, such as Kelvyn Park High School, which lost $1.6 million in funding for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Nevertheless, the community will continue informing the public and registering voters.

Calls to CPS, Maldonado and Emanuel were not returned.

“The referendum aims to demonstrate in the clearest way possible that the community opposes the militarization of our education,” Diaz said.