By Russ Pulliam, Associate Editor for The Indianapolis Star, director of the Pulliam Fellowship
“Jason and Jenny Dorsey tried education reform in Indy before it became a popular political project.
A young pastor, Jason and his family checked out the Indianapolis Public Schools not long after 9/11. With four children, they had other options, including the new Oaks Academy. With classical curriculum and racial balance, it was popular in the Redeemer PCA congregation where he had become pastor near downtown Indianapolis in an area that was attracting an influx of middle class families.
They wondered if could all the bad things they heard about the city’s public schools could be that bad?
Students would get into fights. Teachers sometimes didn’t care and just showed up for work. IPS buildings were in poor shape. Students dropped out too easily. Too many parents didn’t care or were too young to discern how to care.
The Dorseys found another side of the IPS story. Jenny became PTA president at their children’s elementary school. She befriended teachers, principals and Superintendent Eugene White. Jason volunteered as a lunchroom supervisor at Tech High School. Then he became a baseball coach there and led a petition drive for capital improvements. They called their little group IPS Renewal. They thought Indianapolis could never be truly world class without excellence in IPS.
Elizabeth Odle was principal at IPS 14. She balanced love and discipline as families moved often and students brought the challenges of broken homes.
When some of the Dorsey children were at Tech, the basketball team started to dominate the way city schools did back in the 1950s and 1960s. Tech took the school’s first state championship, in class 4A, in 2014, with a 27-2 record. The team won off-court victories, with an average GPA of 3.2. Star player Trey Lyles won the Trester Award for character and now plays for the Denver Nuggets.
The Dorsey family has since moved back to their Seattle roots. They look back at IPS as a success for their family. Jason and some friends are finishing a documentary on the season, We Are Family, highlighting the ups and downs of the 2013-14 season.
With a kickstarter campaign, they hope to raise $25,000 to finish the film, using clips that Dorsey and others saved up from the season.
Basketball is just a game, even in Indiana. For Tech High School, though, that championship season was a big off-court victory. They played in the Hoosiers film tradition of the underdog, yet not in a 1950s small country school. Their season showed that big city schools can overcome the obstacles of racial division, urban poverty and broken families and win championships in life.”