As Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to transform a Logan Square school into a military academy Tuesday, parents of Ames Middle School students chanted "Ames is not for sale" outside.
Using $7 million in TIF funds, the low-performing Ames — for seventh- and eighth-graders — in the 1900 block of North Hamlin will be expanded from seventh to 12th grades. It will become the permanent home for the Marine Math & Science Academy, whose nearly 400 students share a campus with Phoenix military students on the Near West Side.The mayor said students at military academies have an 80 percent graduation rate, compared to the citywide average of 65 percent. And 90 percent of graduates of military high schools are accepted to a four-year college or higher education institution.
"They are setting the standard for where we want the school system to move," said Emanuel at the Marine Math & Science Academy, as a dozen parents protested outside. "That's exactly what we want for all children that go through the city of Chicago."
Next school year, the expansion will add 600 more students to both the Phoenix Military Academy and the new military academy at Ames.
Military schools are popular. CPS officials say between 2005 and 2012, the number of students applying to military academies increased by 237 percent.Military academies have the same extracurricular activities as neighborhood schools, with the exception of optional military programs such as learning how to work a compass and navigate maps and military marching, said Robert Edwards, who has taught at Phoenix for 10 years.
At the same time, 30 percent of Phoenix students are enrolled in special education classes, he said.
"We are a public school with all the services of a public school," Edwards said. "Most likely you hear the misconception that it is a service academy… But you are 10 times more likely to see students head to a university than you would see a service appointment to the Army, or an officer commission in the Navy. It's their choice."
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said in a statement Tuesday that the decision was "yet another betrayal of children by Mayor Emanuel and his appointing school board." She said hundreds of Ames parents, students and residents have participated in several meetings to support the school, which she said had improved its academic standing in recent years.
"It's not fair," said Joanna Vazquez, the mother of an Ames seventh-grader.
"If [the mayor] was going to switch, he should have just come to the parents and the school and just talked, instead of just hiding and doing it behind our backs."