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IDEA recognizes benefactors, student achievement

October 3, 2018

IDEA Public Schools celebrated its 12-year legacy in Brownsville at luncheon Thursday dedicated to educational excellence and the district’s commitment to college for all of its graduates.

IDEA grew out of an afterschool program in Donna in 2001 with 150 students at its first school. Today it bills itself as the fastest-growing network of pre-K-12 public charter schools in the United States.

The district built its first campus in Brownsville, IDEA Frontier, in 2006. By 2012 people in San Antonio were asking IDEA representatives how to turn around the fact that students in their city were one-third less likely to graduate from college, founder Tom Torkelson said at the luncheon.

“They walked through our classrooms and they were amazed and thrilled with the challenging, rigorous hard work students were doing. They wanted a little slice,” Torkelson said.

Today San Antonio’s 24 IDEA schools are part of the fastestimproving school district in the

U.S. and have spurred a competitive atmosphere among all of the city’s schools that benefits all students, he said.

The luncheon is an annual eventthatrecognizesIDEAPublic School benefactors and seeks donations while recognizing student accomplishments.

In Texas, charter schools have long operated with less funding than traditional public schools. This year’s luncheon recognized state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, with the Charter Champion Award.

Torkelson said the honor was in recognition of the key role Lucio played at the Legislature by sponsoring a bill to equalize funding between traditional independent school districts and charter schools.

Torkelson also called Brownsville a great education town, where both public and charter school districts have won the coveted Broad Prize, the Brownsville Independent School District the Broad Prize for Urban Education and IDEA Public Schools the Broad Prize for Charter Schools.

Nohemi Pizana, a parent of an IDEA student and now an IDEA employee; Marisol Melgoza, a former student and now an IDEA

teacher, and Alan Sepeda, a member of what will be the first graduating class at IDEA Brownsville, gave testimonials about the difference IDEA has made in their lives.

“There’s no better investment than education because it never loses value,” Melgoza said.

David Merrill, who served on the IDEA Public Schools governing board at the time IDEA Frontier was built on South Dakota Road, recalled what it was like in the early days.

“Boy were we scared,” he said. “We were afraid we paid too much for the land. We were afraid it wouldn’t work, but they never lost sight of the map they had, the goal or the outcome,” which is that all IDEA graduates get to and through college.

“They focus on that every day,” he said.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com

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