Richmond Hill resident Otha Thornton has announced his candidacy for Georgia state school superintendent.
The Elberton native and retired military officer said his objectives as superintendent would be to support educators and adequately fund public schools statewide.
“Our state constitution says that we must ‘adequately fund’ public schools and we’re not doing that,” Thornton said. “The 2018 budget for education is set at $12 billion, and estimates show that is at least $166 million short of where it should be.”
Thornton is currently the education chair of the Bryan County Democratic Party and served as president of the National PTA from 2013 to 2015. Although the race for state school superintendent — which will be on the ballot in 2018 — is a partisan one, Thornton believes education is a non-partisan issue.
“It’s partisan but shouldn’t be political,” he said. “Education should be about doing what is best for our students and our schools.”
Thornton said he has experience in this regard, having worked as a presidential communications officer during the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
He also has political experience having been a planner, organizer and speaker for the group that opposed Georgia’s Opportunity School District ballot initiative in 2016. The amendment failed by a 60-40 margin.
Retiring as a lieutenant colonel, Thornton also served as chief of personnel operations in Iraq and earned the Bronze Star during Operation Iraqi Freedom for combat operations in 2009-2010.
His involvement with the PTA began when he was stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland.
“Our high school had 2,000 students and we had seven parents show up to the PTA meeting,” he recalled. “I was ‘volun-told’ by my colonel that I’d be involved, and so I became vice president of the local PTA.”
The group quickly expanded to 200 members, and then 400 the next year, which caught the attention of the national organization.
“We won an award in 2006 and they asked me to serve on the national board,” he said. “I served another term and was on the legislative committee, then was elected president.”
In that role, Thornton traveled around the country, meeting with PTA chapters and learned more about the impact of education on the nation.
“There’s a real disconnect right now between our state leadership and our local school districts,” he said. “There is a real lack of resources in our classrooms.”
His wife, Caryn, is an educator with more than 20 years of experience.
“We’ve got teachers asking parents for donations so they can buy cleaning supplies,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”
Thornton said he also recognizes that schools across Georgia have many different challenges. He and his wife built a house in the Richmond Hill area and lived here from 1994 to 1998 when he was stationed at Fort Stewart, then moved back here after his retirement.
“The schools are the reason we chose to live here,” he said. “Our daughter attended Richmond Hill Elementary School at the time, but our son was too young.
“So I understand what districts like this one are going through when it comes to higher and higher enrollment,” he added. “But we also have to meet the needs of all districts across the state, no matter the demographics.”
Thornton graduated from Morehouse College with a degree in urban studies, then received a master’s degree in rhetoric and technical communication from Michigan Tech when the Army assigned him there as an assistant professor. He received an honorary doctorate from Michigan Tech in 2009 and has been named an outstanding alumnus of both schools.
He is a life-time member of the National Eagle Scout Association, and a member of the American Legion and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Since his retirement from the Army, he is the principal of the Thornton Consulting Group and works as a military contractor with General Dynamics at Fort Stewart.
“We’ve been traveling all around the state, just listening,” he said. “We’ve been meeting with teachers, students and families, listening to their concerns about how to make our schools better.”
His campaign website can be found at https://othathornton.com/.