Meet Dr. Garland Thomas-McDavid, President of NLCP

North Lawndale College Prep (NLCP) is made up to two charter high schools in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. NLCP’s mission is to prepare young people from under-resourced communities for graduation from high school with the academic skills and personal resilience necessary for successful completion of college. In order to achieve this mission, the community at NLCP challenges students personally and academically to get them ready for college, but does it in such a way that it feels completely from the heart—with high expectations, collaboration and commitment—like a family. This spirit animates everything they do.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr.Garland Thomas-McDavid, NLCP’s President, for a conversation about her journey in becoming the President of these innovative high schools on Chicago’s West Side.

Dr. Thomas-McDavid is a native New Yorker. Growing up in Brooklyn, her family struggled financially, and they were limited to the low-achieving school options in the neighborhood that they could afford to live in. Then, her family learned about the Free Choice program, in which participants had the opportunity to attend a higher achieving school in a different neighborhood free of charge. Once Dr. Thomas-McDavid started this program with her siblings, their lives changed forever. Throughout her childhood, she knew that she wanted to become a teacher, a profession that requires at least a bachelor’s degree and additional certifications. At her new schools, her thoughts of college became more than a dream – they became a reality.

Once she became a certified special educator, she taught at the middle and high school levels in the suburbs of Chicago. She was a successful educator who was promoted to Assistant Principal. She loved her job. But then, a friend told her about an opportunity to work in the City of Chicago at the Noble Network of Charter Schools. At the time, the network was looking to expand, and needed experienced school leaders who were excited about the thought of building their own school from the ground-up, from hiring teachers to organizing the budget. However, she was skeptical about charter schools at first – weren’t they just staffed with uncertified teachers? Upon visiting the schools, though, she saw that there were high standards in place, with effective results. She wanted to be a part of it.

Dr. Thomas-McDavid fell in love with the charter school model, where educators had fun, worked hard, and improved outcomes for the students they taught. She became a principal intern, then the founding principal at Johnson College Prep, and a lead principal. Armed with the leadership tools and skills, she then made the move into CEO of Civitas and then President of NLCP in July of 2017.

Moving into a new school environment again, she felt like NLCP was a “breath of fresh air” and  a place that really put a lot of heart into the school and the community.

Founded over two decades ago, NLCP is committed to serving North Lawndale and surrounding communities. Almost all of NLCP’s students will be the first in their families to attend college. The school pioneered many social-emotional learning techniques and supports that are now considered to be best practices across the country. For example, the Phoenix Rising program sends students to summer college programs across the country, providing early exposure to college experience and campus life. The Phoenix Pact supplies scholars with scholarships to partner colleges and universities known for their their success in graduating minority students.  Finally, The Alumni Emergency Fund supports NLCP alumni as they strive to complete their degrees, alleviating small challenges that might otherwise derail a first generation college student. Most important, NLCP staff truly give their scholars their best every single day and expect the scholars’ best in return.