UPDATE: On Thursday, Chicago Public Schools officials clarified their plans for Ames Middle School. They said Ames would remain open shift its focus to become a military school It will also be expanded to include a high school. Marine Math and Science Academy will not move, as was previously reported, but will be expanded, too, officials said.
NEAR WEST SIDE — Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that the Marine Military Math & Science Academy is relocating to Logan Square's Ames Middle School, a plan that some parents had strongly opposed.
The move of Marine from the Near West Side has been pushed by Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), who appeared with Emanuel at the announcement made at Phoenix Military, 145 S. Campbell Ave. Phoenix had housed Marine, which was looking for more space.
Under the plan touted by Maldonado, the Ames building at 1920 N. Hamlin Ave. will be taken over next fall by the Marine Math and Science Academy. The academy for high schoolers will then absorb the seventh and eighth grades currently taught at Ames.
City spokeswoman Rachel Kruer said "teachers at Ames won't be affected based upon the change of academic focus," and added that by announcing early they were giving parents time to make other arrangements if their children don't want to attend Marine Math and Science.
Current seventh-graders will automatically be accepted to Marine, she said, but sixth-graders who'd planned to attend Ames will either have to apply to Marine or go elsewhere.
The plan still needs final approval by the Chicago Board of Education, Kruer added.
On Tuesday, Maldonado said he felt it was his "duty to provide all our children with real opportunities to get a quality education in the 26th Ward, and that is why I am proud to bring Marine Math and Science to our community."
Less than 500 students attend Ames, which has a capacity of 1,100. City school officials have targeted some low-enrollment schools for closure in a districtwide cost-cutting move.
Parents repeatedly protested the proposed change at school board meetings, Maldonado's ward office and at City Hall over the last year. In December, School Board President David Vitale denied the move was in the works and assured parents there were no plans to change Ames into a military school.
"This is horrible," said Maria Trejo as she and others protested outside the Marine academy Tuesday. Trejo, the director of Ames' Elev8 program, which works to improve student achievement at the school, said protestors "thought we had won the battle and the military school was staying out, and once again we're hearing it's happening."
In a statement, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said her members, too, were "outraged" by the "betrayal" in closing Ames.
“The added insult to injury is that the school board president said less than a year ago that there were no plans to bring this militarization experiment to a school that is already succeeding," Lewis said. "We don’t know why the alderman has been pushing something so strongly opposed by his community, or who it will benefit, but that certainly isn’t the students.”
Maldonado has said that the idea came to him a few years ago when he was visiting Ames as part of Chicago Public Schools' Principal for a Day program. Maldonado said he saw kids flashing gang signs and using profanity and was deeply troubled by the metal detectors at the front doors.
Parents against the move said Ames has made a lot of progress academically. In 2010, 66 percent of Ames students were meeting state standards. By 2012, the number had jumped to 71 percent.
The Marine Academy, at 145 S. Campbell Ave., has about 400 students. It is in good academic standing by district standards, but only 26.5 percent of its students meet or exceed state standards. That is below the districtwide average for high schools of 31.5 percent.
Emanuel said relocating Marine to the Ames building will add 750 seats to Marine. The move will also free up 600 seats at Phoenix Military, the mayor's office said.
New science and computer labs and classrooms for art and music will be added to Marine at a cost of $7 million, taken from TIF funds, Emanuel's office said.
Overall, Emanuel says he wants to expand the number of seats at city military schools by 50 percent. Currently, there are six applicants for every one available seat at the schools. The mayor's office touted high college acceptance rates for military school graduates.
Some activists in the city were also disturbed that kids as young as 12 could be targets of military recruitment. The American Friends Service Committee's Chicago Truth in Recruitment Program, has decried what it calls the "militarization of youth."