James Deanes dies at 66; praised for role in starting local school councils

Written By BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter Posted: 07/07/2014, 06:24am
Array James Deanes | Sun-Times liibrary

When James Deanes’ children were growing up, he didn’t want them to fall victim to the streets.

So he started youth baseball teams in the Austin neighborhood to give them something to do.

He led anti-drug marches on Saturday nights. He served on PTAs, councils and other school organizations.

“His life revolved around kids and trying to make sure that children reach their full potential,” Kenya Deanes said of his father.

With that same zeal, Mr. Deanes also helped shake up the Chicago Public Schools in the 1980s. That’s where his children were enrolled. And he wanted them to succeed, his son said.

“Ultimately, it was because he cared about us,” Kenya Deanes said.

James Deanes, 66, died Wednesday in his sleep at his longtime home on the West Side, according to his children. He was remembered Thursday as a driving force behind the school reform movement that created the Local School Council model still largely in use today.

His friend Lafayette Ford said Mr. Deanes was appointed in 1987 by the late Mayor Harold Washington to lead the Parent Community Council. That group helped persuade Illinois lawmakers to pass legislation creating the LSCs, giving parents more of a role in their children’s education.

“Parents weren’t being recognized,” said Louella Williams, now a Local School Council member at George Manierre Elementary School. “Students were not achieving. And we had no say-so in what was going on in the schools.”

Williams said Mr. Deanes was chosen to lead the group because he was a “down-to-Earth guy.”

“He was a trouper,” Williams said. “He was a leader. And we had confidence in him. And he never got above, no matter what his position was, he was never above us. He was always with us. Working side-by-side with us.”

Growing up, brothers Kenya and Corey Deanes said, their father’s role in the schools meant they got away with very little in the classroom. He had so many different roles “we couldn’t even name them all,” Corey Deanes said.

“You knew not to get in trouble,” Kenya Deanes said. “Somebody somewhere could tell him.”

Eventually, activist Mr. Deanes took a job within the Chicago Public Schools. He served there just shy of 20 years, Ford said, in roles that included special assistant to the president of the board of education.

Ford said Mr. Deanes retired from CPS last year as senior policy adviser for Local School Council relations.

Mr. Deanes’ wife, Evelyn, died in 2006, Corey Deanes said. In addition to Kenya, 44, and Corey, 43, Mr. Deanes also is survived by sons James, 46, and Malcolm, 39, and daughter Denna, 29.

Visitation will be 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday at Leak & Sons Funeral Home, 7838 S. Cottage Grove Ave. A wake will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Salem Baptist Church, 11800 S. Indiana Ave., to be followed by funeral services at 11 a.m. Interment will follow at Mt. Hope Cemetery, 11500 South Fairfield Ave.

Email: jseidel@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SeidelContent

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