Michelle King, the longtime Los Angeles Unified educator who became the first African-American woman to lead the district and only the second woman to do so in nearly 80 years, has died.
King was 57 and had been battling cancer. Her death was announced Saturday by the district.
“Words cannot begin to describe the sorrow we feel, the love we shared with—and for—Dr. King, and the lasting impact she had on our communities,” the district said in a statement. “Her dedication to uplift every student, family and employee within Los Angeles Unified was second to none.”
King was selected as superintendent of the nation’s second-largest school system in January 2016. She replaced Ramon Cortines, who had come out of retirement to run the district after John Deasy’s departure.
While on medical leave and undergoing cancer treatment in January 2018, King announced her plans to retire from the district.
“As a Los Angeles Unified graduate, parent, life-long educator, and the first African American woman to lead the district, Dr. King was truly an inspiration,” the Los Angeles Unified schools wrote in a statement.
“She was a collaborative and innovative leader who broke down barriers to create more equitable opportunities for every student. Her warmth, love and generosity transformed countless lives and left a legacy that will continue to impact us for generations.”
King had a deep roots in Los Angeles. She graduated from the district, and made the decision to become a teacher while studying biology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
That led to a nearly 33-year career with the district. She started as a teacher’s aide, then became a middle school math and science teacher. She rose up the ladder, from assistant principal, principal, chief administrator of secondary instruction, local district superintendent, chief of staff to the superintendent,and senior deputy superintendent before taking the district’s top job.
She left her mark on those around her through her “competence, humanity, dedication and loyalty,” The Los Angeles Times’ education reporter Howard Blume wrote. Her major accomplishments, Blume wrote, included increasing the district’s already climbing graduation rate and expanding access to special programs.
In a statement, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, in part: “Dr. Michelle King’s life and career encapsulated what it means to be an Angeleno: excellence, kindness, integrity, service above self. She devoted her entire professional life to students in Los Angeles, and led our school district with all of the passion, skill and determination that it takes to be a powerful fighter for young people and their dreams.
“Michelle’s extraordinary achievements—record graduation rates, putting higher education within reach for all families, and creating new opportunities for our kids to be on pathways to careers—should inspire each one of us to be part of the mission to make L.A.'s schools the best in America.”
Photo Credit: Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King. --Brinson+Banks for Education Week-File
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.