Otha Thornton is a trailblazer in American education. He is the first black man ever elected to hold the position of president in the more than 100 year history of the organization. Rolling out spoke with Thornton about education issues and the role of the National PTA.
What are the biggest challenges facing local schools that you have seen?
Budget – With tax cuts and the rising cost of education it is a matter of our communities making education a priority. It is going to be critical as we move forward.
Education reform – In 44 of the 50 states there is a movement to the Common Core which is a great set of standards that will allow students to be career or college ready as we move forward. These standards were developed at the National Governor’s Association meeting of 2009. It was during this meeting that the governors of different states expressed their desire that our children be able to compete with other children of the world. So they established some educational goals in English and Math for example. It was a very non-partisan type issue, but in the last couple of year’s we have seen the Republican party politicize the issue.
Why should we continue to encourage young people to go into teaching with the political climate and teacher salary issues?
First of all, to me teaching is a calling and a profession and we have to encourage and educate our students to what the teaching profession offers. We must encourage them and let the great teachers be the model for the kids to inspire them to want to be teachers
What is the National PTA’s position on the influx of unaccompanied minors that are coming to the United States.
The National PTA’s official position is that no matter what the immigration status of a child is, if a child is in the United States they are entitled to an education and the services and care given to any child. So it is important, and at the National PTA we are notifying all of our leaders around the nation on our position and I have been speaking on this subject at press conferences. The bottom line is, we need for the kids to be educated. With that being said, we must provide the resources .
How should local communities prepare for the impact to their individual schools?
Bottom line, we have very specific standards that the National PTA follows. The very first thing we do is welcome them, not only to the school but also to the community. Number two is communicating effectively with the parents to help them find resources to do what needs to be done, also ensuring student success, this is very important. Finally, engaging the community by working with businesses and base groups to make sure the community is accepting the people.
In closing, what are the top priorities of the National PTA this year?
Ensure people are engaged in their schools and with increasing involvement. Studies show that having a parent or a significant other involved makes a difference in a child’s education. We are working closely with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education on early childhood education, we are trying to ensure we get that right. Our role today is to ensure that we make every child’s dream a reality by empowering their families and communities. We are trying to empower these families so that kids can be successful.