James Deanes with state representative LaShawn Ford and Austin businessman Ade Orayemi at the opening of Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy in 2006.

Many in the Austin community are mourning the death of longtime resident and education activist James Deanes.

A retired Chicago Public Schools official and father of five children, Deanes, 66, died of natural causes June 4 in his West Side home.

“I can see the great loss we are going to have in not having someone to go out and advocate on the behalf of those who don’t know,” said Phalese Ann Binion, president of the Westside Ministers Coalition, at the group’s monthly meeting Thursday, where they held a moment of silence in his honor. 

Deanes is remembered as a reformer within CPS and one of the architects of Local School Councils. Created in the 1990s via legislation, the LSCs gave parents a bigger say in their children’s education. Deanes’ passion for education began with his own children, said longtime friend Lafayette Ford, who first met Deanes in 1978 while both were community activists on the West Side. 

Their shared activism developed into a lifelong friendship in the late 1980s when both became involved in the Chicago school reform effort. 

“He had the biggest heart. He loved and protected people, whether they were known or unknown,” Ford said. 

Deanes, he added, was not just an education advocate but a community advocate, fighting against the drug dealers and for better housing for residents. His activism began as a PTA member and later as a member of the Local School Improvement and Parent Community councils, the forerunners to the LSCs. Deanes also chaired the Chicago Algebra Project, which focused on engaging students in math. 

He was among the first LSC facilitators after joining CPS, and held other positions during his 20-plus year career, including community liaison and policy advisor. Deanes retired from CPS in 2013. Ford called him a major force in school reform. 

Deanes was appointed by then-Mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s to lead the Parent Community Council, which played a major role in getting state lawmakers to pass the law creating LSCs for the state’s largest school district.

“He believed that parents needed to be included in the process and with institutions, and that children needed a good education, and that all children needed an opportunity to be exposed to it,” Ford said. 

Deanes’ funeral was Tuesday at Salem Baptist Church on the South Side. Ford said a memorial service on the West Side is currently being planned. 

At Thursday’s Westside Ministers Coalition meeting, Deanes was remembered as a fireball who was down to earth yet passionate about education, and informing the community about public education.

“He let us know exactly what was really going on regarding CPS, not that fluff we would see on TV that was watered-down,” Binion said. “He would share what was going on and how it would affect our children.” 

West Side resident Jo-Anne Terrell recalled Deanes’ dedication to advising different community organizations and LSCs.

“He came out on his own time and gave us training. He advised us to learn that (CPS) manual inside and out. He was passionate, and he made it personal,” Terrell said.

Deanes did face criticism from some for being both an education activist and working for CPS, recalled community organizer Dwayne Truss, who considered him a mentor and his “civic father.” But being on the inside was a great way for Deanes to ignite change inside CPS, Truss said.

“They say change comes from within, and he was dedicated to making sure he changed the bureaucracy of inside to respond to parents.”

Terry Dean contributed to this article

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