Marguerite LaMotte, the long-serving member of the LA Unified school board, died this morning in San Diego, where she was attending a meeting of the California School Boards Association.
She was 80.
A former teacher and principal, LaMotte was first elected to the board in 2003, before term limits were put in effect, and remained well-known as a passionate advocate for students in her south central district, many of them from among LA’s poorest families. She often called the students in her district “my babies.”
LaMotte was a strong voice for teachers and other district employees, which won her lasting support from UTLA, the teachers union, as well as SEIU, a public employees union.
She was also a persistent critic of Superintendent John Deasy, casting the lone dissenting vote against renewing his contract in October. In a statement released by the district, Deasy said, LaMotte “dedicated her life to the students of LA Unified. She advocated passionately and without apology for all students. She was a fighter for civil rights and for quality education.”
Board President Richard Vladovic, perhaps her closest friend on the board, and Deasy were also attending the meeting in San Diego.
“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,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said in a 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.”
Vladovic worked for years with LaMotte when they were both school principals. “She was my dear friend, colleague and inspiration,” Vladovic said in a statement. “She was always a terrific educator, always committed to ‘her babies,’ which is what she called her students. Her rich experiences as a teacher and principal informed her decisions. She never stopped fighting for them on the school board.”
In a statement released by UTLA, union president Warren Fletcher called LaMotte “a friend to UTLA, and our members were on the front lines during her campaigns for school board.”
He added, LaMotte “personified all that is the best in this District and in public schools. She was kind and compassionate, and she saw everything through the lens of what is best for our children. The teachers and Health and Human Services professionals of LAUSD will miss her, both as a strong leader, and as a dedicated fellow educator. She was simply the best.”
The district today announced that the board’s next meeting, on Tuesday, will be cancelled, and flags at district schools would be lowered to half-mast.
A graduate of Xavier Preparatory High School and the YMCA Business College in New Orleans, at age 18, LaMotte was appointed Director of Spaulding Business College in Baton Rouge. At the same time, she attended Southern University at the same time, earned a BA degree in Education, and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1961. She earned a M.Ed. in 1965 from Louisiana State University, where she was also the first African American woman to serve as visiting professor in the undergraduate school of education.
LaMotte served as President of the Los Angeles Council of Black Administrators; President of the L.A. Chapter of Southern University Alumni, Los Angeles Chapter; President of the Assault on Illiteracy Program and as a volunteer and member of numerous community and civic organizations.
LaMotte was fond of recalling her educational experies at board and committee meetings. At a board meeting last year, she said she got a nickel for every “A” she earned in school.
And during a committee meeting last month, she reminisced about her experiences as a young teacher in Louisiana. She said, at that time, Louisiana was not preparing black teachers to deal with non-black students. That first day in the classroom, she said, “It was the worse day of my life.”
She is survived by two children and four grandchildren, according to her board biography.
Her death presents the board with two options to fill her seat. Members can either appoint someone within 30 days of the vacancy to hold the office for the portion of the term, which expires June 30, 2015, or they can conduct a special election, in conjunction with the city.
In either case, the political context of the board is not likely to change, with only two other members, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia, viewed as more favorable to reform efforts. LaMotte was clearly in the pro-union camp that includes Vladovic, Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayer and Monica Ratliff.