Georgia residents have had the benefit of employing one of the most active education advocates in the country in Otha Thornton. Now Thornton is running for State School Superintendent of Georgia at a critical time. His past roles in education saw him serving on a national level as the immediate past president of the National PTA, the first Black man to hold this position in the 100-year history of the organization. In 2013, Ebony magazine listed Thornton among its Power 100 profiles in America and he was honored at a ceremony along with Oprah Winfrey, John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman and fellow Morehouse Man, Samuel L. Jackson.
Thornton’s climb to the recognition of excellence was a difficult one. Born in Elberton, Georgia, Thornton was the product of a broken home. His father left his children and wife, leaving them in poverty. However, a mother’s love and faith brought Thornton to Morehouse College in 1985. While earning his BA in urban studies, he also earned a commission as a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army. Thornton rose through the ranks as a bright military officer, earning among many honors the Bronze Star Medal for exceptional performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2009-2010.
As president of the National PTA, Thornton took on many challenges including growing the relationship between legislators, educators, parents and children. When his term ended, he continued his advocacy not only at a national level but in the state of Georgia. Thornton drew the ire of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal when he opposed pending legislation. That legislation called the Opportunity School District would have given Gov. Deal unprecedented power to replace school boards and educators on failing schools without parental or community input.
Now Thornton is running for State School Superintendent of Georgia at a critical time. Rolling out asked Thorton about the top three issues in his platform.
Empowering Georgia families and educators
“I often say, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ Top-down solutions like the Opportunity School District and Georgia House Bill 338, which give excessive authority to the Governor’s office are an example of what is wrong with our education system and takes power away from parents, educators, and communities. Taking more power and decision making away from parents and local education authorities don’t give our families and students a sense of pride. We need to empower local leaders, give them access to the resources they need and collaborate with them so we become partners in finding solutions instead of brushing aside those who are fighting every day for something better. I will work to support families: parents, grandparents, caregivers, siblings and the rest of extended families who are all working together to support our students. Our students need everyone willing to support and mentor them and I will do whatever I can to aid them. As a national education leader and advocate, I played a key role in the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. This federal law has given parents and state governments more power, flexibility and authority to better serve the needs of our children.”
Providing essential resources to every Georgia student
“Children make up 25 percent of our state’s population, but 100 percent of our future. We need to invest in them. Frederick Douglass said, “It is better to invest in a child than repair a broken man.’ As our state’s focus on top-down solutions have caused our education system’s race towards the bottom we have left students and families suffering in our wake. Death by a thousand cuts has left schools without the basic resources to support gifted students, students seeking college prep, students with special needs, and students for whom the school is their only relief from a bad situation. Georgia must do more to ensure that we are supporting their education and letting them be with their peers. I will work directly with educators across the state, advocates, and parents to understand what each district needs and develop a resource plan that uses every federal and state program available to us to give our students the best we can.”
Fighting to fully fund every Georgia public school
“Georgia is working on an education formula that is a third of a century old. It does not represent what we need to provide a workforce needed for future jobs. We cannot expect Georgia to excel if we allow disparities between school districts and the fate of geography to leave students behind. Our state is working on a 1985 education budget formula that does not take into accountability true budget requirements for 2018 and beyond, technology, and safety costs for our schools. When districts cannot afford basic needs, students may never catch up — and we have cost them their potential. Our politicians at the state capitol have pushed to starve our public schools and dictated policies and unfunded mandates. This is a race to the bottom that has hurt urban, suburban, and rural schools. It leaves us shortchanging our future and doing serious damage to our growth. I will work to fund Georgia schools statewide, with the state budget once again paying its fair share instead of forcing hardworking local taxpayers to bear ever-increasing taxes. I will make sure that every politician in the state knows that cutting school funding hurts their local communities — seniors, working families, small businesses, and our economic growth that has already suffered and cost Georgia dearly.”
Challenging Thornton for the post is incumbent Richard Woods and challenger Sid Chapman, current president of the Georgia Association of Educators. Neither opponents has Thornton’s background, which also includes tours of duty as Presidential Communications Officer and J1 Director with the White House Communications Agency under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He was also Chief of Personnel Operations for the United States Forces-Iraq in Baghdad.