The Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence, Inc. was the vision of Thomas V. Barnes, two-term mayor of the city of Gary, Indiana, small business owner, and lay ministry leader of his church. Inspired by the memory of the superior education, both public and private, which Gary once offered its children, Atty. Barnes brought together a group of committed citizens, the Vision Team, to organize for the maintenance or resurgence of quality education in the city of Gary, Indiana. Several months of intense searching and planning gave birth to the Drexel Foundation, incorporated as a 501(c)3 agency in 2001. The life of St. Katharine Drexel, multimillionaire who gave up all to promote social justice through education of African American and Native American peoples, prompted the name of the Foundation.
From the Vision Team emerged the founding members of the Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence, Inc.: Attorney Thomas V. Barnes, Mrs. Anne Thompson, and Reverend Robert Gehring. The initial purpose--to facilitate enhanced educational opportunities for Gary inner-city schools--developed into the mission as it is now expressed.
During the same year that Drexel was founded, the State of Indiana passed Senate Enrolled Act No. 165, Section 21.1C 20-5.5, which gave approval for the establishment of charter schools. Drexel Foundation made one of its immediate goals to investigate the possibility of establishing a charter school in Gary.
Continued planning and study led Drexel to American Quality Schools (AQS), Inc. of Chicago, IL, which at that time was successfully managing five charter schools. The marriage of Drexel’s vision and AQS’s expertise led to authorization by Ball State University for Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, K-6, to open in 2003. In August 2004, grade 7 was added with enrollment of 441 students and thirty-nine classroom instructors and teaching assistants.