About Us » History


James Otis World Language Academy
The area around James Otis World Language Academy has an interesting history inherited from representatives of many different cultural groups.  The neighborhood had its fastest growth in the period after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.  People of Scotch-Irish heritage settled the area.  Among the area settlers was the Bickerdike Family who owned the lumber mill that was used to build many of the frame houses in the neighborhood. The family’s legacy to the area and to the city of Chicago was Bickerdike Park on Ohio Street between Armour and Bishop Streets.  The park was donated to the city with the stipulation that it must always be maintained as open green space.  Its location was especially fortunate for students of Otis School.  For over 100 years the school was completely surrounded by concrete.  Bickerdike Park was a short distance away and provided the only hint of natural beauty in the area.


Grand Avenue received its name from Colonel Thomas Owen. He claimed that Chicago was a grand place to live. Thus, he named the former Indian Trail (Indiana Street) Grand Avenue.


Armour Street was named after George Armour.  George Armour gained prominence as a member of the firm called Armour, Dole, and Company. He was a prominent figure at the Chicago Board of Trade and in financial circles as well. In 1860, his company built the first elevator to handle grain for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroads. 


The Armour Street School opened during the 1878-79 school year. Individual coal stoves heated the classrooms and gas lamps provided the source of lighting for the school. The original structure contained the rooms now numbered 6, 7, 9, and 10.  The sidewalk around the building was made of wood.  In 1893, a second addition was built to handle increased enrollment.  The second addition included the rooms now numbered 4, 5, and 11. 


On November 27, 1901, the name of the school was changed to James Otis Elementary School. James Otis, Jr. was born on February 5, 1725 in Barnstable, Massachusetts.  The Harvard-educated lawyer, political activist, and legislator served as the King’s Advocate General in Boston.  In 1750, he resigned rather than argue for the Sugar Act. He was a close associate of John Adams and through that relationship became involved in demanding the rights that were enjoyed by all Englishmen to also be guaranteed to the colonists.  He wrote pamphlets against the acts of Parliament, denounced the Townshend Act, and went to England to argue the case as a representative for the colonists. His well-known catchphrase “Taxation Without Representation” is tyranny became the basic Patriot position.  He was involved with the Committees of Correspondence and was one of the writers of the Federalist Papers. 


In 1906, the third addition was added to the school.  The final part contained the rooms now numbered 1, 2, 3 and 13.  It also contained the gymnasium and the assembly hall.  Furnaces, washrooms, and utility rooms were also added at that time.


Two unusual rooms at Otis School were the fresh air rooms, 208 and 209.  Since tuberculosis was a dreaded disease during the latter part of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, children spent about thirty minutes a day on cots in these rooms.  Windows were opened and rooms were heated with radiators, so the children would benefit from the fresh air.


Since most of the buildings in the Otis area were cold-water walk-up flats, a shower program was instituted at Otis School.  A bath attendant was on duty and children were given the opportunity to take showers on a regular basis.  The showers were located in the school basement.  The room is now used as a storage area for maintenance supplies, as the program was discontinued when the last bath attendant retired in the early 1900’s.


In 1975, the school was rehabilitated. Nearly one million dollars was spent to refurbish the school.  The project included replacement of the antiquated electrical system; installation of aluminum sashes with plastic windows; sanding and refinishing of oak floors; installation of a communication system; and removal of a cornice from the original building.


In 1996, a school beautification grant (written by a faculty committee) funded the installation of the trees surrounding the school and an interior atrium.  Another memorable grant, written by faculty, was the Federal E-Rate program in the amount of $500,000. The technology-based grant awarded to schools and libraries, provided Otis with an MDF room, file servers, and networked classrooms with Internet access.  Subsequent E-Rate grants have continued to upgrade Otis’ technological needs throughout the building. In 2001, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provided for other improvements to the building. A ramp, an elevator, lower water fountains, wider doorways, and accessible washrooms were installed for students with disabilities.


A cooperative agreement between Otis School and the Chicago Park District provided the initial funding for our campus park.  Improvements included grassy areas, trees, park benches, and flowerbeds.  The small street, which had separated Otis School from Bickerdike Park was removed and the park was made part of the school campus. Game fields were constructed for basketball, soccer, beep baseball, and softball. The play area for younger children was improved with the installment of a climbing apparatus, new slides, and new swings. 


Since then, the grounds have been continually improved through the efforts of parents, faculty, and community partners.  A peace garden and monument were added at the south end of the building; tulips and daffodils were planted in the front of the school; new glass windows were installed; parts of the building were tuck-pointed; the auditorium was renovated replacing the old seating with folding chairs; a new sound and lighting system was installed; upgrades were made to the electrical system, as well as, the communication system; cameras were placed on the inside and outside the school; window air conditioning units were installed in all classrooms; a learning garden was placed at the south end of the building to increase students’ academic engagement; and a number of classrooms and hallways were painted.


In 2018 a new school logo was created in collaboration with Rich Alapack, founder of the “We All Live Here” organization. James Otis World Language Academy was proud to encompass the entire school community in its modern 21st century logo. The inclusive logo represents autism with its colorful puzzle pieces, braille to represent visual impairment, an owl to represent the school mascot lifting the entire school community, and the Spanish “Todos Vivimos Aquí” to represent our Spanish world language. The Otis community thanks Rich Alapack for his message of equality and unity in the simplistic, but powerful message, WE ALL LIVE HERE!


In the 2018-2019 academic year Otis began its journey in becoming a Personalized Learning school focusing on the whole child, including social-emotional wellness and equitable practices. The four pillars of Personalized Learning are “Learner Connected;” “Learner Demonstrated;” “Learner Focused;” and “Learner Led.” Otis students learn to take ownership of their learning in a personalized experience that is unique to them. In 2019-2020 the Instructional Leadership Team & Administration collaborated to establish the Otis Portrait of a Graduate. The Portrait of a Graduate is the school commitment to ensure Otis students graduate with attributes that will guide them toward academic and lifelong success as follows: Passionate Readers; Inquisitive Thinkers; Empowered Learners; Resilient Problem Solvers; and Empathetic Citizens.


James Otis World Language Academy celebrated its anniversary of 140 years of service to children in June of 2019 in a spectacular event! In July 2019 a capital improvement project of $288,000 included mitigation of old paint, wall repairs, and a fresh coat of new paint throughout the school. Additional capital improvements from 2016 to 2021 under Principal Mendez’s leadership included upgrades in plumbing; roof repairs; new bathroom floors & repairs; sanding and refinishing of wood floors in seven classrooms; painting of fifteen classrooms; music room; computer lab and library; new fire retardant drapes, projection screen, and paint in the auditorium; repairs and new tiles on east corridor of fourth floor; main office paint & furniture upgrades; new swings and painting of fixtures on the play lot; tuck-pointing of exterior building; exterior fieldhouse repairs; exterior murals; restriping of entire parking lot; repainting of basketball court; new website; new flexible seating furniture in all classrooms, as well as, one to one computing; a life skills room for students with disabilities; a “Feel the Fresh” branding of the cafeteria, including paint and new flooring in lunchroom “A” and a new nurses station on the fourth floor. Forthcoming in the near future for Otis will be a new artificial turf sports field for students.


The Otis community continues to thrive. Outstanding learning experiences for Otis students are our main focus as we continue to follow our vision of working together to prepare our children for lifelong learning and service in our neighborhood, greater community, and expanding multicultural society.






            Principals of James Otis Elementary School


                            Armour Street School

1880 – 1892

Laura D. Ayres

1892 – 1901

Gerbrandus A. Osinga


                                James Otis School

1901 – 1913

Gerbrandus A. Osinga

1913 – 1914

Charles G. Griffiths

1914 – 1935

John M. Duggan

1935 – 1938

Marian C. Lyons

1938 – 1960

Frances A. McCarthy

1960 – 1962

Mildred E. Chuchut

1962 – 1971

Arnold E. Mach

1971 – 1985

Stanley R. Smart

1985 – 1986

Naomi Nickerson

1986 – 2006

James A. Cosme


                   James Otis World Language Academy

2006 – 2015

Jaime Sanchez

2015 – 2016

Donna Holland

2016 – 2021

Nancy Mendez

  2021 –

 Claudia Guerrero