Our History

Check out this little video about IDEA School’s inaugural year, when we were K-3!

Early influences

The founders of the IDEA School first met because their children went to school together at a remarkable little preschool in Tucson’s Barrio Viejo called Downtown Community School.  Our Director, Jaime Johnson, also co-founded DCS with another extraordinary teacher, Emily McCrea, in 2011.  Together, they built a preschool and Kindergarten in which children’s social and emotional development are central, in which learning is authentic, fun, real-world based, and often messy, and which the children (and their parents) absolutely love!

We started the IDEA School because we didn’t want the kind of rich, holistic learning that our children were experiencing at DCS to end when they became 1st Graders. We wanted to build a K-5 school around many of the same guiding principles and practices that make DCS a special, beloved place: extremely low student-teacher ratios; collaborative teaching and learning; learning through play and exploration (inquiry-based learning); a connected parent community; and a focus on social and emotional development and the building of empathy.

As we were envisioning what this new school would look like, we also looked to Brightworks in San Francisco, where their motto is, “Everything is interesting. We can create anything.”  Gever Tulley, founder of Brightworks and the Tinkering School and author of 50 Dangerous Things (You should let your children do), is a mentor and advisor to the IDEA School. Brightworks’ vision for how to organize the curriculum and the learning experiences around real-world projects was the jumping off point for our own.

Why a private school?

As we continued to meet, plan, and envision all the possibilities, we decided that we had to be an independent (private) school, not beholden to state-imposed standardized curricula or high-stakes standardized testing. We believe in high standards — which we implement and continually refine as a community of engaged educators and parents with our children’s best interests at heart. But we disagree with standardization — the idea that all kids need to learn the same things, at the same time — particularly since a standardized education holds less and less relevance to how the real economy works today.

It is widely predicted that many of the best jobs of the future will be in industries that have yet to be invented. We knew we needed to prepare our students to be in charge of their own learning, to be able to learn anything. That, we felt, was the only thing that made sense when the only constant we can count on is change.

Scholarship program

At the same time, we knew we wanted to be accessible to all families, not just those who’ve always considered a private education within their reach.

We strongly believe that the kind of education we are facilitating belongs to all children — and that diversity, particularly socioeconomic diversity, is vital to our success.

We created a robust Scholarship Fund so we could offer need-based scholarships to any family that wants this education for their child, regardless of income. Since the beginning, more than 75% of our students have attended on need-based scholarships. We have never turned away a family for lack of funds. 

Moving forward

We always have had an abiding faith that this is the right way to do education. While our particular practices have evolved and changed, our vision has not. We continue to learn — from our students, families, and the broader community — and improve our practice.

Every enrolled family, and every member of our staff, has helped to shape the IDEA School. Together, we’re building a powerful education for all.

Thank you for being a part of our journey!