News About a Transition at IDEA Public Schools

Note From Al Lopez, IDEA Board Chair

Dear IDEA Team & Family,

As chair of IDEA’s Board of Directors, I am writing after our meeting this evening to share the news that Tom Torkelson has resigned to embark on the next chapter of his career and that the Board has appointed JoAnn Gama, our current President & Superintendent, to be IDEA’s new Chief Executive Officer. That IDEA is making its first leadership transition in 20 years is both a testament to the stability and success of this organization under Tom’s leadership and a reminder that different moments in an organization’s evolution call for different leaders.

In addition to doing or overseeing just about every job in the organization over the last 20 years, JoAnn is a national leader in the charter school and college-for-all movements. With a personal story that affirms IDEA’s mission of providing opportunity through education, JoAnn has received the prestigious Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership and was appointed to President Barack Obama’s White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She is in the National Charter School Hall of Fame and sits on the board of the Texas Public Charter Schools Association. In short, JoAnn is an inspiring, eminently capable and proven leader who can seamlessly assume a new role. IDEA’s outstanding senior leadership team is fully behind JoAnn, and they will have plenty of time to make the transition a smooth one before the next school year.

Even as we navigate an uncertain time for schools everywhere because of COVID-19, we are as optimistic as ever that IDEA will continue to be a force for tremendous good in the communities we serve ‒ and in more communities to come in the future. From a single school in Donna, Texas, IDEA has become the fastest-growing charter school network in America and a major contributor of first-generation college students. IDEA will continue to thrive under JoAnn’s clear-sighted leadership and her devotion to students and educators.
I am confident that each of you stands ready to help take IDEA to new heights. For some of you, there are direct ways you will be supporting our new leader, because you will be working together daily. For most of you, your support of JoAnn’s leadership will be more indirect: by helping your students continue to learn while they’re home, by preparing that anxious senior for graduation and the perfect college fit, by welcoming a new family into the IDEA community, by recruiting a fantastic teacher or staff member, or by ensuring IDEA always uses its resources in the most effective and responsible way. We believe in “Sweating the Small Stuff” because it all contributes to IDEA’s excellence and impact. And now, JoAnn—an expert at tackling the small and the large—will be leading the way forward.

All of us on the Board, together and individually, will be actively involved in making this transition successful. The Board has already implemented a number of policy changes and controls to strengthen board oversight and meet the highest standards in governance, fiscal responsibility, board membership and public transparency. That work continues, and is being advised by experts in nonprofit and corporate management and governance. We are committed to being both IDEA’s advocates and providing critical oversight as IDEA continues to grow and make a difference for kids and communities.

We are excited that JoAnn is chief executive at this important moment, and we are grateful for everything Tom contributed to build IDEA into the remarkable organization it is. And, to this wonderful team of nearly 7,000 people, thank you for everything you were already doing for IDEA before this pandemic affected our community and country in unprecedented ways, and for all you will do to support IDEA going forward.


With appreciation,
Al Lopez, Board Chair & the IDEA Board of Directors

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