A First: National PTA Installs African-American Man as President

By Michele Molnar — June 23, 2013 2 min read
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Otha Thornton, the first African-American man to be president of the National PTA, was installed in that office today at the 117th annual National PTA Convention and Exhibition in Cincinnati.

A senior operations analyst with General Dynamics in Fort Stewart, Ga., Thornton has been with PTA on a local, state, national and international level.

“As president, I am committed to expanding PTA’s membership, leadership development and advocacy efforts to strengthen the association and fully empower families, teachers and communities to advocate for all children,” he said in his opening remarks, according to a PTA statement.

Thornton, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who earned the Bronze Star Medal for exceptional performance in combat operations in 2009 and 2010 during Operations Iraqi Freedom, brings extensive involvement in all levels of the PTA to his role.

He drew on his military background in some of his comments after his installation, saying: "... in the battle for a great education, we need more ground game and less blame game. We need chess parents in our schools, not checker parents. Chess parents are the parents that show up to ensure that the needs of all children are met. And, checker parents show up when there is trouble, but not consistently to address their child’s educational concerns.”

Thornton also talked about his upbringing in his speech: “I think back to 1983, when my mother was rearing seven children alone. My father had left the family a few years earlier. We had many challenges, no family vehicle and no public transportation in the town.

“What I remember most about those days was how—just about every day—when I returned home at night after a 12-to-14 hour school and work day, she would ask, ‘How was school today?’

“This short, but powerful question let me know as a child, that my mother cared about my education, well-being, and in a loving way, was taking accountability by expressing an interest in my education and choices that I made as a child. In her wisdom and eternal hope as a mother, she knew that education was her children’s passport out of poverty and an opportunity to see the world,” he said.

Indeed, Thornton and his family have lived all over the world, and his two children have been part of school systems in Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, as well as the Department of Defense Schools overseas.

Thornton previously served on the Georgia PTA Board of Directors and on the PTA’s national Board of Directors. He currently lives in Savannah, Georgia, with his wife of 24 years.

“Parents are an essential voice in the education reform debate, and we need to be much more than an audience. We need to be partners in the education of our children, and I am looking forward to engaging with diverse communities across the country to ensure that all parents have a voice in their children’s education,” he said in the statement released by the PTA.

See our full coverage of parent empowerment issues.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.