History of IDEA Public Schools

How did it all begin?


During their stints as Teach For America corps members, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama founded the IDEA Academy as an after school program in Donna, TX in 1998. It was created as a way to help combat some of the major educational deficiencies they saw in their students, focusing the program on student achievement and college readiness.


Torkelson and Gama named the program IDEA, an acronym for “Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement,” and “No Excuses!” was their motto. IDEA enjoyed quick success, and the state of Texas granted a charter to IDEA in 2000. Beginning with only grades 4 to 8, the original flagship campus in Donna has expanded into a full-scale Pre-K—12 campus today.

2005 - 2012

IDEA Public Schools embarked upon an ambitious expansion plan in 2005, titled “The 2012 Plan,” with the goal of launching 22 IDEA schools across the Rio Grande Valley by the year 2012.

Click here to learn more about IDEA’s expansion

2013 - 2021

With the opening of 21 new campuses for the 2020-21 school year, IDEA served more than 63,000 students at 120 schools in 8 regions across Texas and Southern Louisiana.

2019 - 2022

For the 2021-22 school year, IDEA will educate nearly 70,000 across Texas, Louisiana, and Florida on their journey to and through college.





15 YRS


The flagship campus in Donna graduated its first class of seniors in 2007, sending 100% of its graduating students to college. To date, IDEA has kept its promise of sending all students to college. In the 2020-21 school year, IDEA graduated more than 1,407 seniors from 19 campuses, and for the 15th consecutive year, 100% of our seniors were accepted to college.

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