National PTA President Seeks to Reach Out to Urban America

Otha Thornton, the first Black man to lead the PTA, says there is a need to draw more African-Americans and men.

Posted: 10/24/2013 12:30 PM EDT

By his own admission, Otha Thornton is taking on new horizons as president of National Parent Teachers Association.

In an organization that is largely white, female and suburban, Thornton is an African-American who is just the second man to lead the organization in its 117 years. He is the first Black man to lead the organization, the second man and the second Africa-American president.

And his very presence at the head of the PTA sends an important message, one he is eager to act upon, he said.

“I think my presence here says a couple of things,” he said, in an interview with BET.com. “It shows that men can be involved in the PTA in significant ways. Research shows that when you have male involvement in schools, students do better.”

He added: “As I travel the country, I’m sharing with men that we need them and we need them to share in the lives of students.”

Thornton, who came to the position four months ago, has worked to step up the organization’s outreach to urban areas as well as to partner with groups that develop leadership skills and academic support to male students as well as fathers.

Specifically, he said that the PTA has partnered with Strong Fathers Strong Families, a nonprofit organization that lends support to fathers. “It’s a way that we can work with men to be better fathers to their children.”

Serving as president is Thornton’s additional job. By day, he is a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics in Fort Stewart, Georgia. In addition, he is a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel and his last two assignments were with the White House Communications Agency and United States Forces-Iraq in Baghdad. Before that, Thornton served on National PTA's board of directors.

Thornton also served Maryland PTA as nominating leader, board development committee chairman, and as a member of Anne Arundel County’s Superintendent High Performing High School Task Force. In addition, he was appointed by the governor of Maryland to serve on a Maryland Education Task Force.

At the PTA, he said he is emphasizing three areas of focus: leadership, advocacy and membership.

He noted that the PTA’s membership has increased last year by 10 percent after a decade of decline.

“We think that’s good news. We’re reaching out to some of the urban centers around the country, talking with parents about how to better engage the school system,” he said. “We think there are some good things going on for us.”

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(Photo: Courtesy of National PTA)

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