December 19, 2013
By Herbert A. Jones
Special to the Sentinel
School Board Member, the honorable Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte recently made her heavenly transition just hours before the passing of Nelson Mandela. Known for her strong and unrelenting stance on the Los Angeles School Board, Ms. LaMotte rose to fame in this city as one of the greatest principals in LAUSD history.
Ms. LaMotte first came to the attention of this city as fearless principal of Horace Mann Junior High School in the 1980’s. Many parents in the Horace Mann community were afraid to send their children to the home school. Their children boarded busses and attended schools in the valley causing the syndrome known as the “Valley Brain Drain.”
To attract these students, Ms. LaMotte began personally escorting students as they walked down Western Avenue and supervised them as they waited for public busses to keep local gangs from intimidating students.
Channel 7’s Eyewitness News did a story where they filmed Ms. LaMotte confronting gang members on the corner of Florence and Western. “Move on, move on, this is a school zone” she stated as gang members had one male student surrounded. This was the first “Safe Passage” procedure to gain attention in Los Angeles.
As more students returned to the home school from the “Valley Brain Drain”, Ms. LaMotte instituted Mann’s Accelerated Program for Honor Students. High achieving students became symbols of respect and it was cool to be a “Wise Owl”, the mascot of Horace Mann.
Horace Mann under the leadership of Ms. LaMotte became the first inner-city school to win third place in the Academic Pentathlon. When Mann won third place, Ms. LaMotte held a celebration parade down Western Avenue inspiring more parents to send their students to the home school.
In 1991, Ms. LaMotte was assigned as principal of George Washington Preparatory High School after two separate murders occurred on the campus within a six month period. Each murder was committed by non-students.
Ms. LaMotte instituted the first uniform policy at a LAUSD high school. Under Ms. LaMotte’s leadership, Washington Prep received recognition for sending more African-American students into the UC system in one year than any other high school in the state of California. UCLA admitted 20 Washington Prep students from one graduating class during Ms. LaMotte tenure as principal.
She also added a Music Magnet and a 9th Grade Center to the curriculum. With Ms. LaMotte at the helm, The “Prep” as it is affectionately called, began a symbol of educational transformation.
As our hearts ache from her sudden passing, we are reminded of the work in schools that made her the dynamic and forceful school board member we all came to love, admire, and respect. “Children First” was the slogan that got her elected to LAUSD’s Board Seat One and it is hoped that “Children First” will continue to be the mantra that drives this community. We now have an Angel in heaven watching over us.