JoAnn Gama was born and raised in the north side of Houston. After graduating from Sam Houston High School in 1993, JoAnn attended Boston University. In 1997, she joined Teach For America as a Rio Grande Valley corps member. Upon moving to the Rio Grande, JoAnn enrolled at the University of Texas-Pan American and earned her M.A. in Educational Leadership. JoAnn taught 4th and 5th grade English as a Second Language in Donna, Texas. After one successful year of teaching, JoAnn was nominated by her peers as the campus Teacher of the Year.
In 1998, JoAnn co-founded the IDEA Academy within the Donna Independent School District with her fellow corps member, Tom Torkelson. After one year as a “school within a school,” JoAnn and Tom applied for a state charter in order to open their own charter school. In August 2000, they opened the IDEA Academy Charter School with 150 students in 4th through 8th grade. As Co-Founder, JoAnn has helped lead the replication efforts of the original school. Currently, IDEA Public Schools educates more than 24,000 students in 44 schools across three regions: the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, and Austin.