DOWNTOWN — An alderman literally called in the Marines in the form of a City Council colleague to argue for the change of Ames Middle School to a military academy Wednesday.
The proposal easily won approval before the Board of Education Wednesday.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) argued for the change of Ames to Marine Leadership Academy before the board, joined by Ald. James Balcer (11th), a Vietnam-era Marine veteran.
"The military isn't going to indoctrinate people," Balcer said. "This is a great program."
Maldonado said Ames was underenrolled and that the Marine academy better prepares students for college and professions. He insisted he had polls showing local support for the changeover.
Maldonado has pushed for the switch for over a year, and it was recently backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, even though Board of Education President David Vitale said a year ago that there was no such change under consideration.
"Do not be intimidated by Ald. Maldonado," responded Delia Bonilla, saying she spoke for Ames parents. "In our community, Marine Academy is not welcome.
"He is only working for his own interests," Bonilla added of Maldonado. "It is sad that you're not listening to the school community."
Bonilla accused Maldonado of "lying" and said Ames students were "frustrated" and "upset."
Emma Segura added that it was a case of "politics" winning out over the best interests of education.
Other Ames parents, not formally permitted to speak as part of the public-comment session of the meeting, said more would have signed up, but the agenda including the Ames change was posted after online registration for public comment closed.
Referring in part to the 50 school closings earlier this year, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey compared the board's infatuation with shifting programs to Imelda Marcos' shoe addiction. "Your responsibility as a board is to look after the welfare of the entire system," Sharkey said.
A poll last month showed overwhelming opposition to the change on the part of both Ames parents and students.
"We do our best to sort out truth from fiction," said Vitale.
"I understand both sides," added board member Carlos Azcoitia.
The board voted on a two-part proposal: to move Marine Leadership Academy into the Ames building, with a citywide enrollment estimated at 1,050 and current Ames students permitted to stay on, and to adjust the boundaries of Kelvyn Park High School and add seventh and eighth grades, as well as to adjust the school boundaries of nearby Barry, Falconer, Nixon and McAuliffe to accept students displaced by the change.
Azcoitia was joined by Mahalia Hines in voting against the changeover and boundary adjustments, which passed 5-2. Azcoitia cast the lone vote against making the Marine Leadership Academy program citywide.