Former Lt. colonel is 1st black man elected to national PTA post
by Kathryn Malone
kmalone@mdjonline.com
June 28, 2011 12:00 AM | 8569 views | 13 13 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Otha Thornton was recently elected president-elect of the national Parent Teacher Association. <br> Photo by Jon-Michael Sullivan
Otha Thornton was recently elected president-elect of the national Parent Teacher Association.
Photo by Jon-Michael Sullivan
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SMYRNA - Recently elected as the National Parent Teacher Association's first male, black president-elect, Otha Thornton, of Smyrna admits he's not your typical PTA parent.

"I'm the nontraditional candidate," joked Thornton, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, who worked as a presidential communications officer under both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. "I don't make a big deal of it, but I'm the first African-American male in the whole 115-year history of the organization."

Thornton, a father of two college-aged kids, became involved in PTA at the local school level in the mid-1990s, when his children were young.

Working in Army intelligence, Thornton moved his family around the country several times and lived for a while in Germany. When the family returned to the United States in 2005, Thornton was stationed at Fort Meade in southern Maryland, where he enrolled his children in Meade High School and began helping to turn around the PTA there.

Thornton said that out of the more than 1,800 students at the school, only seven parents showed up to the first PTA meeting he attended. There weren't even enough parents to serve on the PTA board, so the commander of the base recruited Thornton, who was a Major at the time, for a position.

"The commander said to me, 'Major, what are we going to do about this?'" Thornton said of his first PTA meeting at Meade High School. "I said, 'sir, I just got in country a few weeks ago.' And he said, 'Major, what are we going to do about this?' So I said, 'OK, I can be vice-president.'"

As vice-president of the Meade High School PTA, Thornton worked with the base commander and the school's principal to help build a two-year media plan for the school. He started lobbying the school board to get more rigorous academic programs, like the International Baccalaureate Program and the STEM Program, in the school. He and his PTA colleagues also recruited businesses to partner with the school and offer internships for students. In his first year alone on the PTA, Thornton helped grow its membership from 25 to 400, he said.

Through his work, Thornton was soon noticed by the National PTA and was recruited for the national organization's membership committee and the legislative committee.

In July 2010, Thornton and his wife of 22 years, Caryn, an educator, moved to Cobb County. Thornton, who is originally from Elberton, retired from the Army and moved back to his home state.

He now serves on the National PTA legislative committee and volunteers at Floyd Middle School in Mableton. He also consults with Morehouse College, where he received his bachelor's degree.

Thornton said he is honored to serve as the National PTA's president-elect. He will service as president of the nationwide organization starting in June 2013.

"I'm very thankful to God for giving me this opportunity," Thornton said. "Through public education and hard work, these were the two factors that opened up the world for me."

Growing up in rural Georgia, Thornton said he has seen the entire socioeconomic spectrum.

"As an adult, I've tried to reach out to those families and the parents that don't have a voice," Thornton said. "I can relate to and connect to those very diverse populations."
Comments
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sueshe
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July 05, 2011
Shame on you, scoffers and critics! Mr. Thornton is more than qualified to lead PTA members. Quoted from the PTA website: "As the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the nation, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) reminds our country of its obligations to children and provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child while providing the best tools for parents to help their children be successful students."

Who better to help provide children and teachers and parents with a voice than a person who has successfully led thousands of young men and women? Having two children in college helps give him the vision- forward and backward- for each child's destination as a contributing member of society someday. How much more wisdom might he have than a 24 year old single parent who is struggling just to survive day to day with a child? Maybe he can see the problems (and solutions) more objectively since he's not emotionally involved with a child of his own in that level of school. I say, "Hoo-ah!" to LTC Thornton for taking on that kind of stressful, yet vital, community service when he could be relaxing, playing golf, or doing any number of enjoyable activities in his retirement years.
Great American
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July 01, 2011
Surely programs that netted measurable results are still netting positive measurable results in Maryland. By the way, that same high school in Maryland is ranked in the top 3% in the United States this year. That’s leadership. Did you take time to look at his bio? He has also made a powerful impact on PTA units across the country and world at every level in PTA. If that isn't enough he was recognized by state and national leaders to serve because of his leadership and results.

Our nations military and its superb leadership training have produced some of America's greatest leaders of all time.

Remember, out of five million PTA members, not everybody can meet the standard to be considered for this honor, be nominated by a formal committee of past state presidents and leaders from across the nation, and elected by delegates through a democratic process.

Again, why not be part of the solution to help the Parent Teacher Association attack the issues that have been raised instead of moaning and groaning. Leaders, no matter where you are, please don't give up because you are needed our children need you! Let's keep our focus on what's important, which is improving our education system for all of our children.

For all of you at every level that pour out of yourselves unselfishly for the betterment of our nations children and not giving up, Thanks for all you do for the PTA.

Every child, one voice.
roaring woman
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June 30, 2011
Well, it appears that PTA needs to be overhauled. I support PTA's position and all the hard work they've done in the name of children, but it is obvious there are issues choosing important leaders at the National level as well as Georgia. I know many up and coming leaders that have given up because of current leadership. Not sure this guy has the experience that it really takes to truly understand each level within PTA. Don't really care he served in the military - I fully support our troops and their mission, but that does NOT make him qualified to be National PTA's President-Elect.
Great American
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June 30, 2011
The PTA is about the children. The money how else can there be any support without funding? This organization is mostly volunteers. Time, Talents and a lot of Treasure VOLUNTARILY for our children to have a voice. Maybe it was lost but in the article but I read how along with his leadership the PTA in Maryland high school turned their PTA around! If that isn't enough he was sought after from the National leaders for promotion because of his results/leadership. Can't argue about what Mr Thornton has accomplished and will accomplish as President Elect/President. For crying outlaid he has lead our nations finest in combat and worked under two presidents. Promote because of results not because of tenure, time on the job or how many positions any of us have had. If anyone can lead this man can! All nay sayers why not be part of the solution to help the PTA attack the issues that have been raised. Please get off the porch and help! It's very easy to quarterback from your easy chair. Try getting in the game and contribute like other volunteers. Together we could make a greater impact in the lives of our children and improve the education system across the US and it's territories. "We Can't Beat Up Results!" Let's unify working towards our common goal which is every child, one voice.
anonymous
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June 29, 2011
Race is not the issue it's his lack of PTA leadership experience. This is just like hiring Redden as superintendent. Just because he's from the military doesn't mean he will be good at running this organization. The PTA needs someone that has worked up through all of the ranks of PTA so they will understand the challenges at all levels.

The big push for membership is so they can fund all of thier extravagant yearly conferences like the one they just had in Orlando. With this move PTA will continue it's downward spiral into personal poiltics and people trying to use donations for their own personal gain.
brica
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June 28, 2011
So what have any of you talking done to try to do his job? It seems to me he picked up the stick when no one else would.You're local so what have you done?
Tommygun
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June 28, 2011
Good grief, give the man a break already. I don't see why there are concerns with him not currently having school aged children. I don't know how much time that I or any parent with a career could truly devote to a national organization while still working 40-plus hours per week AND taking care of your family at home. Some of you are complaining just to complain.
fredmeister
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June 28, 2011
apparently they saw something in him the could'nt find in you
Curious One
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June 28, 2011
OK, forget his color, experience and age of his kids - what is his platform and what will he do in the next couple of years for the kids in Cobb ?

Local school PTA's do a lot, but the rest is fodder for fools.
cobb citizen
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June 28, 2011
So why is it necessary to make a "big" deal out of race in this position. With the experience this man has, why is it necessary for him to shadow the current national PTA president for the next year and a half. One thing I can say is the local PTAs will get memberships in by any means necessary. What is the purpose of PTAs? Believe me, I have served my time with them. Where have they been with all of the issues going on in public schools such as budget cuts, increased class sizes,increased drop out rates, salary cuts of educational staff, high stakes testing and the drama that comes with it, funding issues, dysfuntional school boards and leadership and the list goes on. I guess the PTAs have been focusing on getting the memberships in. In order for most schools to get a decent turnout for a PTA meeting, a bait and switch method has to be used such as: a pizza party to the class with the most parents attending, food, children performing or it is coupled with some other program like an "open house". So, is the PTA necessary?
anonymous
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June 28, 2011
I'm afraid this was a political move to elect a male minority to the post. He does not have the PTA experience to really be an effective leader in this organization.
anonymous
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June 28, 2011
I'm concerned at his lack of experience at the district and statel level PTA. I really believe that disrtict and statel level experience should be required to run for a national office. How else can they direct these units if they don't have a clue at how they operate.
That Guy
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June 28, 2011
So no school age kids, very interesting. May I as way a person with collage kids would even be considered. I will say I am happy he was a PTA parent at one time. This job should only be for those who have school age children.
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