Jefferson City, MO – The Missouri Retired Teachers Association and Public School Personnel (MRTA) has completed work on a detailed strategic plan that will guide the organization as they continue to advocate for Missouri’s public school retirees, educators and staff.
The plan, which was formally unveiled at MRTA’s 2023 Unit President Summit on March 14 and 15, is the culmination of a year-long collaborative effort among members of MRTA, the group’s leadership, executive director, and staff. Developed with the assistance of the Carden Group, a professional leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe, the strategic plan formally defines the organization’s purpose, values, and goals. It is intended to serve as an anchor document for all future decisions within MRTA by providing a working structure for the group as they move forward to achieve objectives on behalf of their members. Importantly, it also provides MRTA with a way to measure success toward those objectives.
The MRTA board began discussing a strategic plan at their March 2022 board meeting.
The plan was built on insight from leaders, stakeholders, and the MRTA membership. To better understand the history, operations and perception of MRTA, the Carden Group held sessions with the MRTA board, and had individual meetings with members in various roles within the association. Additionally, MRTA conducted a member survey to gather input and ideas in September of 2022.
In November 2022, the specially formed MRTA Strategic Planning Task Force, which consisted of teachers, administrators and public school personnel from each region of the state as well as MRTA board members, gathered in Jefferson City to meet with representatives of the Carden Group for a two-day work session to discuss and develop the major components of the plan. Starting with draft ideas, the group worked to create and refine a mission statement, vision statement, values and key focus areas, as well as ways to measure success.
A key goal of this effort was to determine the best path forward to continue MRTA’s strong advocacy for the Missouri public education pension systems, while at the same time, expanding the group’s mission to include changing the perception of public education in the state of Missouri.
The Strategic Planning Process
“The purpose of strategic planning is simply to set our overall goals and to develop a plan to achieve them,” said MRTA Executive Director Maria Walden. “While the purpose seems straightforward, the planning process itself is quite complex.” She added, “We have a good handle on what we want to achieve, but this process was essential to ensure we stay on task and work in the most effective way toward meeting our objectives. It helped us step back from our day-to-day operations and ask ourselves how we can improve and stay more focused.”
Some of the initiatives discussed include establishing a strong philosophical foundation based on MRTA’s vision, mission, and values; defining and stimulating member engagement; developing working partnerships and alliances with like-minded groups and associations focused on advancing public education initiatives; and elevating the perception of public education in Missouri.
As part of the process, the group also set up committees in charge of leading efforts toward each of the group’s major goals, such as advocacy, engagement, community service, collaboration and leadership, and membership growth, among others.
The plan supports the achievement of MRTA’s overarching goals which are:
Advocacy: To positively advocate to elected officials, government entities, educational associations and civic organizations on behalf of our public school retirement system and public education so that all active and retired public school personnel will be secure economically, socially, and professionally both in retirement and while working for public school districts.
Benefits: To provide our members with many benefits, including health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, assistance with Medicare planning, and discounts on essential goods and services.
Community: To provide our members with a community of educational professionals and personnel who support public education and provide an opportunity for fellowship, social connection, and purpose in retirement. To provide support to our local communities with educational grants and scholarships for our active teachers and by performing community service in all parts of the state.
Getting the Membership’s Views
More than 2,500 MRTA members responded to a survey to determine their level of satisfaction with the organization and learn what they feel are priority issues. Nearly all respondents feel MRTA’s mission and vision statements are aligned with MRTA’s purpose and most feel MRTA should advocate for active teachers, administrators and educational personnel, as well as retirees. Ninety-five percent of the members surveyed were satisfied with their membership and the communications they receive.
Overall, MRTA is in exceptional standing with its membership, and most indicated they believe the association is focused on the right priorities. The leadership team and office personnel in place are highly regarded and nearly everyone who responded commented that they are doing an exceptional job.
Many survey respondents felt that enhancing legislative efforts at all levels of membership would be advantageous to impact legislative issues of importance to members. Protecting teachers’ pensions and advocating for current teachers and public education to ensure a solid future for educators’ retirements are the top priorities.
There is an opportunity to increase participation in activities at the unit and regional levels and to look for opportunities to stay connected with newly retired teachers and administrators. Focus groups conducted by the Carden Group also revealed that members believe collaborations with like-minded groups and associations to amplify MRTA’s voice are a priority.
Analyzing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
The Carden Group also spent time with groups and individuals to take a deep look into internal and external factors and how they impact the association. They then led the Task Force through a formal analysis of the association’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). A SWOT analysis is a proven strategic planning tool used to assess the performance of an organization and identify areas for improvement. This analysis allowed MRTA to formally identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and develop strategies to capitalize on their strengths and opportunities while addressing their weaknesses and mitigating potential threats.
Major outcomes of this analysis highlighted the organization’s strength with regard to legislative advocacy, philanthropy and community projects, the support and promotion of the Retirement Systems, membership growth and an effective leadership team. It also helped the group identify opportunities for recruitment and engagement especially among younger retirees, and how the negative impacts of public perception of public education, as well as an aging population, can impact the association’s efforts.
“This is a plan for our organization’s continued success,” said MRTA Board President Martha Schatz. “It has been an extremely valuable process. This plan gives us a formal framework for evaluating our progress and helps us understand the best ways to adjust course, as necessary. It will be of great benefit to us as an organization, and to our membership.”
While the plan is complete, the work is only just beginning, as the group now sets their sights on rethinking what is possible and implementing plans to reach goals, meet priorities and measure success against the framework they have created. While the work done forms a foundation for the decisions and priorities going forward, ongoing assessment will be conducted in order to make any mid-course adjustments needed to stay on track.
“Over the years, MRTA has achieved great success advocating for our retirees,” Walden said. “But we must continue to expand and grow our efforts to educate, inform and advocate, especially in the face of the current political landscape and recent trends in public opinion that frame our public schools in a negative light. We have the opportunity to use this strategic plan to build on our strengths. It will help us grow and engage our membership, communicate, and connect with both current members and new audiences, and guide us as we create new alliances. All these things will help us move forward to achieve our goals and ultimately fulfill our core purpose to promote and protect our public school retirees, our active teachers, our public school personnel, our communities and the over 860,000 children who attend our public schools.