Co-Founder, President, & Superintendent, IDEA Public Schools
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 on a full scholarship. In 1997, she joined Teach For America, a national corps of highachieving leaders who commit two years to teach in public schools in low-income communities. Upon moving to the Rio Grande Valley, JoAnn enrolled at the University of Texas-Pan American and earned her master’s degree 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 fellow Teach For America 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 grades 4-8. As co-founder, president and superintendent, JoAnn has helped lead the replication efforts of the original school. Currently, IDEA Public Schools (IDEA) educates nearly 53,000 students in 96 schools across six regions—the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Southern Louisiana and Tarrant County. JoAnn received the prestigious Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership in 2009 and was appointed to President Barack Obama’s White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in 2010. JoAnn was a part of the Fall 2013 Pahara Institute Cohort. In 2017, she received the Business of School UTRGV Award; and last year, JoAnn and Tom were inducted into the National Charter School Hall of Fame. Currently, JoAnn serves as a Texas Charter School Association board member and is a cofounder and board chair of Latinos for Education, the first Latino-founded and led national organization dedicated to creating pathways for Latinos in education. In addition, JoAnn is a fellow of The Broad Academy of The Broad Center. JoAnn resides in Edinburg, Texas with her husband Juan, founder and Managing Director of Gama Property Management, and their two children, Gael and Jimena, both students at IDEA Edinburg.