TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Latoya McGhee is the principal of IDEA Hope College Prep and she uses her story of overcoming adversity to inspire her students and staff.

IDEA Public Schools is a non-profit charter school based in Texas. Currently, there are four IDEA schools in Tampa. All of the Tampa principals are African-American women:

  • Latoya McGhee, principal, IDEA Hope College Prep
  • Monique Head, principal, IDEA Victory College Prep
  • Latoya Spann, principal, IDEA Victory Academy
  • Danielle Peterson, principal, IDEA Hope Academy

McGhee’s story began in the small town of Hartsville, South Carolina.

“We grew up on a farm,” McGhee said. “We weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths. We had everything we needed, but not everything we wanted.”

McGhee was raised by her grandparents. She still recalls the memories and the experiences.

Latoya McGhee’s grandparents

“Me learning how to sew, me learning how to tend to a garden,” she said. “There are so many moments that I shared with my grandmother that I’m grateful for, that I wouldn’t have had if the dynamic was different.”

The dynamic included McGhee being raised by her grandparents while her mom was more of a co-parent. McGhee’s mother, Samantha Burton, was 15 years old when she had McGhee. McGhee’s grandparents helped due to Burton’s young age.

“My mother was still always there,” McGhee said. “I remember her coming with popcorn in hand and we watching movies.”

Burton told 8 On Your Side, she wanted to get her education in order to provide a better life for her family.

“I knew I had to get my education, but I was still right there,” Burton said. “I remember singing different songs that I learned in Spanish class and singing her to sleep. We kind of like grew up together.”

After McGhee graduated from high school, she attended Spelman College in Atlanta.

Latoya McGhee as a freshman at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.

“I was prepared academically, but I wasn’t prepared to move away from home and be on my own,” McGhee said. “I did end up flunking right out of Spelman.”

After flunking out, she got pregnant at 20 years old.

“I didn’t have a plan, so of course there was some panic,” she said.

She tried school again but ended up dropping out twice. During this time, she and her mother went to college at the same time.

“At that time I was encouraging her to do better because we were both trying to do it,” Burton said.

McGhee said she started working small jobs, but eventually, she hit rock bottom. One day a co-worker ended up helping her realize her passion.

“She said I think I want to teach and these little hairs stood up on my arms,” McGhee said.

Within weeks she was teaching and within four years she went from being a substitute teacher to a teacher to an Assistant Principal.

“When I made the decision like that’s it, that’s what I should be doing, it seems like every single door continued to open for me,” McGhee said.

In 2018, the opportunity to enter IDEA school’s principal training program opened up. In 2019, she became the principal of IDEA Hope College Prep. It serves sixth through eighth-grade students. 85% of students are African-American 14% are Hispanic and 1% are other. Many of the students live in low-income communities as well.

McGhee said that representation for her students means everything to her.

“It means a lot,” McGhee said. “It’s my passion it’s my life work.”

McGhee lives and serves her passion alongside her mother. They both beat the odds. Burton also graduated from college and later joined IDEA schools.

“I liked it and so I decided I want to go into teaching,” Burton said. “My daughter told me about IDEA.”

Samantha Burton graduated with her Associate’s Degree.

“There’s no other person that I would want to share this with, other than my mom,” McGhee said.

Burton is an ESE teacher who works with students with disabilities.

“I tell them all the time, I believe in you and you can do it because I did it,” Burton said.

Burton said she is proud of her own accomplishments, but she’s even more proud of her daughter.

“I’m so proud that she’s a principal but I’m proud of her as a person,” Burton said. “She’s making a difference in someone’s life. That’s what I always wanted for her.”