Head shot of a man with short brown hair wearing a blue collared shirt in front of a textured beige background.

Tom Torkelson

Job Title
CEO & Founder
Corps Year: 
Corps Region: 
Rio Grande Valley
Alumni Region: 
Rio Grande Valley
Peter Jennings Award

Upon graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in economics in 1997, Tom joined Teach for America and taught fourth grade in Donna, Texas. After three years, 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. Tom has since led the replication efforts of the original school. There are now 24,000 students enrolled in 44 schools across the Rio Grande Valley, Austin, and San Antonio. The mission of IDEA Public Schools is to prepare students from underserved communities for success in college and citizenship. IDEA’s graduates are persisting and graduating from college at rates six times that of other low-income students. In 2015, the U.S. News and World Report ranked all six of IDEA’s eligible high schools in the top 500 nationwide and top 60 in Texas. Those same six high schools received gold medals. The Washington Post’s rankings of America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranked all seven of IDEA’s eligible high schools in the top 1% nationally and top 50 in Texas.

Tom is often called upon to provide expert testimony to state and local officials on issues of education policy and school choice. Most recently, Tom participated in the Broad Fellowship and was a TEDxMcAllen speaker. An avid runner and frequent Ironman triathlete, Tom and his wife, Dr. Nina Lee Torkelson, live in the Rio Grande Valley with their children, Lincoln, Liam, and Gwendolyn.