Ames Parents, Students Call on CPS to Observe Referendum (full article)

THE LOOP — Ames Middle School parents and students and West Side politicians called on the Board of Education Wednesday to take no action on the school's conversion to a military academy before an advisory referendum set for next month.

"The will of the people, the parents, the students, the community has not been heard and has blatantly been disrespected due to politics over common sense," said Cook County Commissioner Edwin Reyes (D-Chicago), who led a protest on the issue before Wednesday's Board of Education meeting at Chicago Public Schools headquarters.

"The community has said, unequivocally, 'We do not want this,'" Reyes said.

"The voice of the Ames community has been ignored and questioned," said Christina Torres of the Save Ames Committee. "We are asking the board to listen to the March 18 vote."

The referendum is set for next month's primary in eight precincts surrounding the Logan Square school at 1920 N. Hamlin Ave. It asks whether voters support the conversion of Ames to Marine Leadership Academy.

"We are respectfully requesting that the board take no action and sign no contracts that would bind CPS to convert Ames into a military school until after March 18," Torres added.

The board voted in December to approve the conversion of Ames to Marine Leadership Academy, a year after President David Vitale said there were no plans for such a conversion, a reversal that left the West Side community feeling betrayed.

"We feel like we've been slapped in the face," Torres said. "They've made this decision even after the parents said no. And so we want for them to just wait until the community and the voters make that decision."

"Why is CPS creating chaos?" Ames Local School Council Vice President Delia Bonilla said during the public-comment part of Wednesday's board meeting. "When will you stop with the disrespect?" She accused the board and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), a conversion supporter, of playing "dirty politics."

Ames seventh-grader Alondra Moreno said the conversion would cause turmoil in the community and shuffle students to other schools.

Ames is about 15 years old, and the community took pride in getting it built during the Richard M. Daley administration.

Board members did not comment on the Ames issue during the meeting, but CPS signaled no willingness to wait or compromise.Reyes was joined by Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and state Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago) in submitting formal letters to the board opposing the conversion. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association also opposed the conversion.

"After hearing feedback from parents and school community members, the board voted in January to approve a program change and boundary revision in order to expand high-quality education options in Logan Square," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. "By bringing the proven Service Leadership Academic model to the new Marine Leadership Academy at Ames, the school will be strengthened academically, offering another strong choice to parents and students, while also helping meet the increased demand for a military education."

Ames supporters complained that the conversion was placed on the agenda for the December meeting after registration for public comment had been closed, thus preventing them from lobbying against it before the board.