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Parents say Alderman, Schools Chief Agree to Meet Over Military School

By Victoria Johnson | January 16, 2013 11:06am

CHICAGO — When Chicago Board of Education President David J. Vitale said last month there were no plans to move a Marine Academy into the Ames Middle School building, parents feared it was too good to be true.

Their suspicions brought them to City Hall Tuesday morning after they got word of a closed-door meeting between Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Chicago Public Schools executives about continued plans to move the Marine Math and Science Academy into the Ames building.

Maldonado has argued that a military program would raise academic achievement. But parents have long protested any such plan, saying they have worked hard to make Ames into a better community school.

"We're not opposed to military schools, we just don't want it at Ames," said Maria Trejo, director of Ames' Elev8 program, designed to improve student achievement.

Parents are frustrated by what they describe as a lack of communication from Maldonado, having repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to meet with him.

On Tuesday, though, the parents cornered Maldonado at City Hall and he agreed to meet with them in his office on Jan. 28, said Leticia Barrera, a parent-mentor coordinator and member of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Barrera said she is relieved to have made some headway with the meeting, but is still wary.

Of the discussion the group had with Maldonado at City Hall, Barrera said: "I want to think it was productive, even though at this point we aren't trusting anybody."

"We want to see the same Alderman Maldonado [at the Jan. 28 meeting] we saw at City Hall," she said.

"If he wanted to sit down and talk to us, we could resolve this right now," said Ames parent-mentor Gayle Storm.

In response to requests for comment, Maldonado reiterated his support for moving the Marine Academy to the Ames building, though he did not specifically confirm the Jan. 28 meeting.

"It is discouraging that despite its state-of-the-art facility, Ames has demonstrated chronic under-performance, under-enrollment and instability with its leadership team since its inception in 1997," he said. "The persistent underutilization of this school clearly shows that if parents have a choice they won't send their kids to Ames for their middle school education."

He also emphasized that anyone who wishes to speak with him about the proposal can go to his Ward Night on Mondays between 3 and 6 p.m.

In another small victory for Ames parents and volunteers, CPS chief executive officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett wrote that she, too, would be willing to meet with them.

In response to an email demanding answers from the group, the schools chief wrote:

"As I have said, I am open to the discussion and would like to learn from you and other voices in the community. I suspect that we will reach a compromise based upon what is best for [the] children."

Bennett has not scheduled a time to meet with Ames parents, but promised to do so soon.