IDEA Public Schools, one of Texas’ most successful and rapidly expanding charter networks, celebrated the opening of its newest campus, IDEA Mays Academy and College Prep, with a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony Tuesday.
The network’s CEO Tom Torkelson joined principals Carmen Sepulveda and Gerald Boyd in dedicating the school to its namesake, Texas media mogul Lowry Mays, and his family, whose donations throughout the years include a $1 million contribution to the campus.
“Our scholars, faculty, and staff are already one team and family,” Sepulveda stated in a press release, referencing one of the school’s six core values. “We are extremely thankful to the Mays family for their contributions as our scholars are already shining inside and outside the classroom.”
Serving 530 students on San Antonio’s Westside, IDEA Mays currently supports K-2 in its Academy and 6th grade in its College Prep and will add one grade level to each of these until it reaches full K-12 capacity in 2022.
To Boyd, a Teach For America alumnus who has worked in the charter movement in Houston, Boston, and San Antonio, being a principal at IDEA is about giving students an opportunity he didn’t have. Attending an underperforming high school in Houston, Boyd says he and his classmates were inadequately prepared for college.
“10 people from my high school (graduating class) went to UT on scholarships. Out of the 10 of us, eight of us were put on academic probation during the first semester,” Boyd told the Rivard Report. “So eight of us lost our scholarships.”
With the goal of ensuring his sixth graders quickly close the academic gaps they brought with them to IDEA, Boyd is driven to ensure “that no matter where these kids live, no matter what education level their parents have… they get the education they need to go to the college of their choice.”
Founded as an after-school academy in 1998 by Teach For America corps members Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama in Donna, TX, the program’s high performance earned it a charter as a 4th-8th grade school in 2000. After expanding its Donna flagship into a K-12 campus, IDEA – which stands for “Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement” – has established 34 schools in the Rio Grande Valley, with 2,100 alumni who are currently attending or have recently graduated from 134 colleges and universities, according to the organization’s website.
In 2013, the network expanded into Austin and San Antonio, opening seven new campuses this year to serve a total of 30,000 students in 51 schools. Emphasizing the urgency of closing the achievement gap, IDEA hopes to more than triple this number by 2022, opening three new schools in San Antonio next year. Amidst this rapid growth, IDEA still strives to improve on its successful track record, which earned it the prestigious distinction of top charter school network in the country awarded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
“IDEA continues to raise the bar year after year,” Mays Family Foundation President Kathy Mays Johnson stated in a press release. “We couldn’t be more honored and humbled to have this campus named after our family. It’s already evident that the faculty and staff at this campus are working hard together to provide a quality education for the students at this campus, and I couldn’t feel more proud.”
Adopting core values like “No Excuses,” “Whatever it Takes,” and “Sweating the Small Stuff,” IDEA Mays aims to follow in the footsteps of schools like IDEA South Flores, where Boyd served as principal in residence last year, and the five other IDEA San Antonio schools that received all possible distinctions from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) this year based on their standardized test scores.
Donning the network’s uniform black shoes, black belt, khaki pants, and tucked in IDEA polo shirts – blue for Academy and red for College Prep – “scholars” represent the beginning of a new educational journey, where their school’s unwavering insistence on high expectations promises a better future if they’re willing to work hard and commit to the school’s vision.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with quotations from Gerald Boyd.
Top image: A “scholar” wears an IDEA Public Schools jacket. Photo by Scott Ball.