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Tom Torkelson

Founder and CEO

Tom TorkelsonUpon graduating from Georgetown University (Washington, DC) with a degree in economics in 1997, Tom joined Teach For America and taught fourth grade in Donna, Texas for three years, after which he successfully launched the IDEA Academy in 2000, serving as the first board president and founding principal. At 24 years of age, Tom was then Texas’ youngest-ever charter school founder. Since 2000, Tom has led the replication efforts of the original school, and system-wide there are now more than 15,000 students enrolled in the 30 schools that comprise IDEA Public Schools, with six more schools set to open in the fall of 2014.

The mission of IDEA Public Schools is to prepare students from underserved communities for success in college and citizenship. Currently, over 93% of graduates are on college campuses across the nation, where they continue to receive support and guidance from IDEA.

In 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked IDEA College Preparatory Donna as the 13th best high school and second best charter high school in the nation.  Also in 2009, IDEA Public Schools was the first-ever charter organization to be named the best school system in the state of Texas (H-E-B Excellence in Education Award).

In 2009, Tom was featured in Time magazine as Wendy Kopp’s pick for the 100 most influential global citizens. Tom is the recipient of the prestigious Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership (2009), University of Michigan Ross Business School’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year (2010), the Freddy Fender Humanitarian Award (2008), and served as Chairman of the 2007 National Charter Schools Conference. Tom is often called upon to provide expert testimony to state and local officials on issues of education policy and school choice. 

An avid runner and frequent Ironman triathlon competitor, Tom and his wife, Dr. Nina Lee Torkelson (RGV ’00) make their home in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas with their three young children, Lincoln, Liam, and Gwendolyn.