Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, school board member was 80

lamotte-lausd.jpgMarguerite Poindexter LaMotte died this morning while in San Diego for the annual convention of the California School Boards Association. The longtime member of the Los Angeles Board of Education from South LA, first elected in 2003, was at the convention with board president Richard Vladovic and LAUSD superintendent John Deasy. District officials said it appears that LaMotte died in her sleep.

"I’m saddened to learn of the passing of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, an educator, administrator, and true trailblazer who dedicated her life to Los Angeles schools,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a written statement. “She was a good friend, and my wife Amy and I offer our deepest condolences to her family, colleagues, and all of those who were touched by her tireless work on behalf of L.A.’s students.”

From Howard Blume's news story on the LA Times website:

The 80-year-old retired administrator was the longtime principal at Washington Preparatory High School, where she was noted for helping to build the campus' renowned music program.

After she retired, she won three four-year terms to the school board, starting in 2003. She became a champion of teachers and a consistent ally of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which provided the primary funding for her campaigns.

Among her noted policy stands was a persistent criticism of charter schools, although her opposition was not uniform, especially after one of her grandsons decided to attend one.
Her tenure also was marked by her distrust of former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his education agenda. They had once supported each other politically, but he broke with her and she never forgave him.

Vladovic and Deasy praised LaMotte in a note to the district's staff.

It is with great sadness that we are writing with the news that our beloved board member and friend, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, passed away this morning. She passed away in San Diego, where she was attending a conference, fighting as always for the students of the LAUSD. We speak on behalf of all friends and employees of the District in offering our deep condolences to Ms. LaMotte’s family.

Board Member Marguerite LaMotte was a heroic figure in the history of public education in Los Angeles. Her fierce devotion to providing a quality education to her “babies” as she affectionately called them reflected her unshakable commitment to the ideals of civil rights and equal justice. All of us honor her memory by continuing the struggle.

LA Times editorial writer Karin Klein assessed LaMotte's recent legacy in an opinion piece on the LAT website.

Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte was for the last several years on the losing side of the Los Angeles Unified school board. Her strong alliance with United Teachers Los Angeles and her dislike of most charter schools and of various reform efforts were at odds with where the board was headed under the heavy influence of then-Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa.

It took just one turnover of a board seat — from reform-oriented Nury Martinez, now a councilwoman, to more independent-thinking Monica Ratliff, a lawyer-turned-L.A. Unified elementary teacher — to change all that. Suddenly, when it came to questioning Supt. John Deasy and challenging his proposals for everything from buying iPads to spending the new money coming to the district from the state, LaMotte had plenty of allies on the board.

LaMotte...will be missed as a fierce champion of directing more resources to the largely black and Latino students within the district she represented. She understood the community well, though she differed sharply with the reform movement about the best ways to help that community. In recent weeks, she at times seemed confused about exactly what was being proposed or discussed, but to her credit, she wasn’t afraid to ask the questions it took to find out. In most cases, she could be counted on to have a strong opinion — and to voice it.

But those who cheered her occasional outbursts on the dais against charter schools and standardized tests might have many more reasons to miss the woman who often referred to students as her “babies.” What one change of board member wrought this year could happen again, if a reform candidate ultimately replaces the feisty board member from District 1. It’s a good bet that wealthy pro-reform figures — including Eli Broad and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated heavily to back reform candidates in the most recent election — will be trying hard to gain this seat, not that their efforts were very successful in the last round.

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