By Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1aB68lv
<< Los Angeles Unified school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, a lifelong educator who represented South Los Angeles since 2001, died Dec. 5, 2013, at age 80.
1/18/14, 5:18 PM PST | :: A public memorial to honor LAUSD board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte drew hundreds of local teachers, state leaders, and community members Saturday to a Los Angeles area high school, where many said she left a legacy as a champion for education for all.
Words of praise and admiration were spoken for LaMotte inside the Washington Preparatory High School in the Westmont neighborhood of South Los Angeles, where she once served as principal. Many said her feisty, no-nonsense spirit and her deep dedication to make life better for all will continue to inspire but also leave a legacy. Every child, “her babies,” she said again and again, deserved an equal education and an opportunity.
LaMotte died in earlier December while attending an education conference in San Diego. She was 80. She was first elected to the Los Angeles Unified School board in 2003. LaMotte represented District 1, which stretches from parts of South and Southwest Los Angeles, including the Crenshaw District toward the boundaries of Beverly Hills, Culver City and Inglewood.
It was a district in which students were defined by their social-economic circumstances, but LaMotte worked hard to make sure the children of her district received equal opportunity to funding or innovations, said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.
“She had a vision that things could be better for students and acted on that vision,” Deasy said.”She knew education meant transformation for students.”
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said LaMotte was not afraid to call out leaders on what she thought were empty promises or else new policies that would endanger her students.
“She was naturally gifted at spotting baloney,” Fletcher said,drawing laughs from members of the audience. “She was surprisingly skilled at telling the emperor he had no clothes.”
But Fletcher also noted that LaMotte understood the heart of what it means to be an educator.
He said she used to say: “They don’t care about what you know until they know that you care.
Born July 17, 1933, in New Orleans, LaMotte graduating from Xavier Preparatory High School and the YMCA Business College. LaMotte was 18 when she became director of Spaulding Business College in Baton Rouge. While working that job, she earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Southern University and a master’s degree from Louisiana State University. After moving to Los Angeles, she was hired to teach in Los Angeles Unified’s Drew Middle School, and quickly moved up through the ranks, working as head counselor at Edison Junior High, assistant principal at Francis Polytechnic High and principal at Horace Mann Junior High and Washington Prep High School.
Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, also attended and spoke at the memorial as did former students who remembered how they met LaMotte.
“I was wearing a hat and walking down these halls when I was 14,” said Vernail Skaggs, now a program and policy specialist with LAUSD, of a tense moment 22 years ago. “She wanted me to take my had off. I didn’t want to.”
Skaggs said he was nearly expelled, but LaMotte gave him a chance. She wanted him to take education seriously, Skaggs said. When he graduated from high school, he cried.
“I cried because she believed in me,” Skaggs said. “Ms LaMotte was a friend.”
Members of the Washington Preparatory High School alumni choir closed the memorial with a New Orleans styled rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching in.”
LaMotte’s grandsons, Chris and Clayton Landry, said they were touched by all the kind memories others shared about their grandmother.
“It was great they commemorated her legacy,” Chris Landry, 22, said. “When everyone got up to speak, it showed how she touched so many lives.”
“It was really moving,” added Clayton Landry, 20. “I wanted to cry, not because I was sad, but because I was happy that everyone cared for her.”
A special election will be held on June 3 to fill LaMotte’s seat.