December 19, 2013
The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to. ~Marian Wright Edelman, The Measure of Our Success (1992)
By Kenneth D. Miller
Asst. Managing Editor
Last Tuesday the Los Angeles Unified School District Board held its first annual board meeting without the Black community’s strongest ally. The board chair that Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte occupied was vacant.
All that remained was a scarf and beads, symbolic of the famed New Orleans Mardis Gras.
The only African American on the powerful seven member board was not there to represent ‘Her Babies’, students of all creeds and religion attending the 100 schools in District 1.
The feisty, Cajun from Louisiana came north and in every aspect of her professional career as a life long educator transforms lives, lifted underserved communities and fought for public schools like a champion prize fighter.
This week, beginning on Thursday final respects will be paid to woman who fought for what she believed in until the day she died in a San Diego hotel room on the job for the LAUSD.
“In every way, Marguerite LaMotte was a model educator, advocate and dear friend. Our community is still coping with the loss of this important leader, who fought especially hard for students in underserved communities, her dear friend and Congresswoman Maxine Waters said. Marguerite LaMotte truly left her mark on all who knew her. Across Los Angeles – will be missed. I believe that after giving generations of our children so much.”
LaMotte was 80-years old.
She was elected to represent District 1 of the LAUSD Board in 2003 and was re-elected in 2007 and recognized as a devout educator and advocate for children all of her adult life.
LaMotte will lay in Repose on Thursday Dec. 19 at Angelus Funeral Home on Crenshaw Blvd. from 12p.m. to 5p.m. and a Celebration of Life Services will be held on Dec. 21 at St. Brigid Catholic Church located at 5214 S. Western Av. in Los Angeles to be followed by Interment at Holy Cross Cemetery located at 5835 W. Slauson Ave. and a Public Memorial on Jan. 18, 2014 at a location to be announced.
Born on July17, 1933 in New Orleans, the youngest of seven children, to Leon and Amy Poindexter, LaMotte flourished in a segregated Louisiana school system and graduated from Xavier Preparatory High School and the YMCA Business College in New Orleans.
Her career in education began at age 18 when she was appointed Director of Spaulding Business College in Baton Rouge. She took classes on a part-time basis at Southern University and was awarded the B.A. degree in Education, Summa Cum Laude in 1961. She completed her Master of Education Degree in 1965 from Louisiana State University.
She was also among the first Blacks to break through segregation. LaMotte was the first African-American woman to serve as Visiting Professor, LSU Undergraduate School of Education.
When she relocated to Los Angeles in 1973 she described her first teaching assignment in the Special Education Department at Drew Junior High as one of the most rewarding of her life.
Successful promotional examinations led to her service as Head Counselor, Edison Junior High; Assistant Principal, Francis Polytechnic High School and in 1984 LaMotte was appointed Principal of Horace Mann Junior High School. The tremendous improvement in students’ academic performance and social behavior was featured on several television programs including the Tom Brokaw NBC Nightly News.
“Marguerite was a leader and a voice for Los Angeles. We honor her legacy as LAUSD is about to undergo important funding decisions that will have a long-term impact on the district,” Congresswoman Karen Bass said in a statement. In 1988 Ms. LaMotte was promoted to Director of Secondary Instruction in Administrative Region C. She also served Region C as Administrator of Operations. With the District’s reconfiguration in 1991, she requested to return back to the schools, “back to the real action working directly with and positively changing the lives of the students.” She was assigned as Principal to Washington Preparatory High School.
Under LaMotte’s direction Washington Prep received Outstanding Accreditation Review by WASC for a maximum 6-year period. LaMotte credited the school’s staff with developing and producing an innovative school-wide Study Skills Program which provides each student with a focused 2-day exposure to the basic study skills needed to be successful and productive. In addition the implementation of standards-based lessons, a continuing effort of all departments, placed Washington in the forefront with common lesson plans for curriculum mapping. LaMotte’s staff considered her the “founder” of the Theater Arts Academy at Washington Preparatory High School.
A former teacher, counselor and principal were elected to serve District 1 of the LAUSD Board of Education in 2003. She was re-elected in 2007 and 2011. LaMotte represented a geographically and ethnically diverse area, including Palms, Mid-City, Baldwin Hills, Pico Union, Jefferson Park, Vermont Knolls, Gramercy Park, Exposition Park, North University Park, Gardena and much more.
Her many colleagues on the board and other prominent elected officials immediately begin to mourn her tremendous loss.
“When you think about her life and her accomplishments, she was an educator’s educator,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, a friend and associate of LaMotte’s for some 30 years.
Others also gave a fitting tribute.
Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) Chair and California Democratic Party Vice Chair Eric C. Bauman issued the following statement on the passing of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte:
“We we mourn the loss of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, one of the strongest advocates for teachers and students in the history of our city.
A lifelong ally to Democratic causes, LaMotte never backed down from a hard fight.
Her leadership will be sorely missed.
Our thoughts are with her family and many, many friends.”
Los Angeles Sentinel Executive Publisher Danny J. Bakewell Sr., for whom a school is named in his honor and sits in her district, was also saddened by the loss.
“First and foremost Marguerite LaMotte was a friend. She was someone who could always be relied upon and each of us have a responsibility to become caretakers of a legacy that can not be duplicated in the education field,” Bakewell stated.
She was preceded in death by her parents, brothers, Frank and Willie Poindexter and sisters, Elodia Rogers and Alma Ferebee. She leaves to cherish her memory, a son, Dale LaMotte of Little Rock, Arkansas and daughter, Faye Landry of Los Angeles and three grandchildren: Christopher, Clayton and Danielle; brother, Leon Poindexter of Houston, Texas and sister, Juanita Shepherd of Katy, Texas; faithful companion, Melvin Morris and a host of relatives and friends.