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 - 2018

With the opening of 18 new campuses for the 2018-19 school year, IDEA served more than 45,000 students at 79 schools in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, and Southern Louisiana.

2019 - 2022

By 2022, IDEA will educate more than 100,000 students across the country on their journey to and through college.





13 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 2018-19 school year, IDEA graduated more than 1,185 seniors from 15 campuses, and for the 13th consecutive year, 100% of our seniors were accepted to college.

Check Out Our Video From IDEA's Most Recent College Signing Day!

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