A goodbye to James Deanes

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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, 2014.

I was initially hurt by being informed of his death. But 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 (CPS) announced in 2004 that it would be closing Austin High School as the neighborhood high school and restructuring the building into three small schools.

James was tasked by his employer (CPS), 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 as Austin High School was being converted 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 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 (LSC) 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 the position with CPS because it put him the position to be a “change agent” from within CPS and foster the implementation and support of LSCs.

I know that James had many family members, friends, and co-workers and family 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.”

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