The city of Chicago lost a true servant with the passing of James Deanes. James made his transition to a better place on June 4. I was initially hurt by being informed of his death. I took comfort in knowing that James was about giving us all the tools of using knowledge for empowerment, so that we can all stand on our own and be change-agents for the benefit of our communities.
My relationship with James really began when the Chicago Public Schools closed Austin High School in June of 2004 as the neighborhood high school and restructured the building into three small schools. James was tasked by his employer to guide the then-Austin Transition Advisory Council (Austin TAC) through the process of selecting new schools for the building. James performed his duties as a steward of the community, not as an employee of CPS. He consistently stood with the community while potentially putting his job with CPS in peril. He encouraged us to hold him and CPS accountable. The Austin TAC was able to function for nearly three years because of his leadership.
During the same time of converting Austin into three small schools, James was also guiding us through the process of rebuilding a new Westinghouse High School. James made time to guide my wife and me through the A-Z of the entire process while performing his citywide duties.
During the process of advocating for both schools, our eldest son, Allen, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in May of 2005. James was there for my family as a father would be for his family. James gave us strength throughout our grief, as well as kept us focused through the process of rebuilding Westinghouse.
By now, history has documented that James was the architect behind the most historical change in Illinois history when Local School Councils were established by law. The establishment of LSCs empowered parents, community stakeholders, and educators to govern a school.
When James accepted the opportunity to work for CPS, a small minority criticized him as a “traitor” or “sellout.” James did not take a job with CPS for personal gain or financial stability. James took the job position with CPS because it put him in the position to be a change-agent from within CPS to foster the implementation and support of LSCs.
I know that James had many family members, friends and co-workers who loved him. I look forward to hearing those fond memories about the man who helped mold me, and who I will always cherish and love as my “Civic Father.”