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Our History

How did IDEA 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 K-12 campus today.

IDEA Public Schools, No Excuses, 100 percent Everyday, Sweathing the small stuff, Team and Family

2005 - 2012

Texas Map

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 - 2017

With the opening of ten new campuses for the 2017-18 school year, IDEA now serves more than 36,000 students in 61 schools across Texas (San Antonio, Austin, and the Rio Grande Valley).

2018 - 2022

By 2022, we will operate 173 schools in 10 regions educating 100,000 students on their road to college.


Graduating Seniors


College Bound

11 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 2016-17 school year, IDEA graduated over 670 seniors from nine campuses, and for the tenth consecutive year, 100% of our seniors were accepted to college.

Read more about our alumni.