Thomas E. Torkelson
Founder and CEO, IDEA Public Schools
After graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in economics in 1997, Tom Torkelson joined Teach For America and taught fourth grade in Donna, Texas, for three years. Mr. Torkelson launched IDEA Academy in Donna in 2000, serving as the first board president and founding principal. At age 24, Mr. Torkelson was Texas’ youngest-ever charter school founder. Since then, he has led the replication efforts of the original school. Today, more than 15,000 students are enrolled in 30 IDEA Public Schools, and six more schools are 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, more than 93 percent 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. That same year, IDEA Public Schools became the first charter organization to receive the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award.

Mr. Torkelson was featured in Time magazine in 2009 as TFA founder Wendy Kopp’s pick for the 100 most influential global citizens. He 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), and the Freddy Fender Humanitarian Award (2008), and he served as chairman of the 2007 National Charter Schools Conference. He frequently provides expert testimony to state and local officials on issues of education policy and school choice. An avid runner and frequent Ironman triathlon competitor, Mr. Torkelson lives in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas with his wife, Dr. Nina Lee Torkelson, and their three children, Lincoln, Liam, and Gwendolyn.