Nightly News   |  October 08, 2013

Meet the new face of the PTA

Otha Thornton is the PTA’s first male African-American president. As a former lieutenant colonel in the Army, he said that discipline -- and his own struggles growing up -- help him relate to today’s most at-risk kids. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> not far from here at the new york public library , this was the final day of our fourth annual education nation summit. the gathering we sponsor every year. it gathers together teachers and students and parents and the best minds in education to talk about what so many americans identify as the most important priority faced by our nation domestically. today, much of the conversation was about parents and their role. one dad, who was present, is actively trying to get parents more engaged. that is because he is the new head of the national pta . we get his story tonight from nbc's gabe gutierrez.

>> reporter: on a wet field in georgia, these cheers are not for the football team .

>> thank you all so much for coming.

>> reporter: but for the new face of the national parent/teacher association.

>> that you sign up for pta unit here.

>> reporter: before the image of the pta has been suburban mom. you're trying to change that perception?

>> yes.

>> reporter: how?

>> well, i'm today's pta , i'm a working dad.

>> reporter: father of two is the group's new president and the first african-american male to hold the unpaid position.

>> and there are barriers in the way of education. and you have to break down those barriers.

>> reporter: no stranger to challenges, thornton is an army lieutenant colonel who earned the bronze star in iraq. now retired, he trains soldiers as a contractor at fort stewart . he said that discipline and his own struggles growing up helped him relate to today's most at-risk kids.

>> when you're in poverty, it can be hopeless.

>> reporter: he was 13 when his father disappeared, leaving his mother to care for seven children.

>> i didn't know why. and i was angry.

>> reporter: but he channelled that anger into education, and when he had kids of his own he joined the local pta and grew it from just seven parents to 400. he now wants every father involved. men make up just 22% of the dpa.

>> we have family leader nights, and we're targeting community.

>> reporter: the group is now providing some kids free ereaders and holding membership drives like this one.

>> if we can draw them in as a whole family unit, it is very important.

>> it is very important if we sustain our membership.

>> reporter: a combat veteran with a new mission.

>> i'm here to serve the children of our nation.

>> reporter: changing america's classrooms, one parent at a time. gabe gutierrez, nbc news, brunswick, georgia.