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Retired teachers look to find voice: St. John Association gains members after memorial dinner

LAPLACE — A recent St. John Retired Teacher Association event potentially doubled group membership, allowing for focused legislative advocacy and volunteer efforts at local schools.

Hosted at Belle Terre Country Club in LaPlace, Friday’s dinner functioned as a membership drive and a tribute to the late Herbert Smith Sr., former superintendent for St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools.

Approximately 80 guests attended the dinner, including 23 who were already members of St. John RTA.

According to president Lula King, 13 guests became paid members by the end of the night, and 10 more took home applications with intent to join.

“We have only been around for two years and we haven’t had a lot of members, so this was a huge event for us,” King said. “We are very pleased with the turnout.”

King said St. John RTA is a chapter of the statewide Retired Teacher Association, an organization that defends benefits teachers receive in their retirement.

Jackie Forest, from left, Jospehine Jackson and Anthony Reynaud attend Friday’s meeting.

Superior protection comes from keeping retired teachers abreast of new legislation and allowing members to lobby for their rights at the state level, King said.

St. John RTA member Patrick Sanders envisions members taking active roles in the community, whether it means serving as testing monitors, volunteering at school functions, working as substitute teachers or mentoring new faculty members.

“Most of these retired teachers are certified for life, meaning they can be an asset to our school district,” said Sanders, a St. John the Baptist Parish School Board member. “I see new members as another catalyst for our local school system.”

In addition to protecting benefits for retirees, advocacy efforts give a voice to local children, he said.

Sanders worked closely with Smith to promote St. John RTA prior to his passing in 2017.

Parish President Natalie Robottom presented a proclamation in his honor during Friday’s memorial dinner.

Sanders, a 20-year veteran of St. John Parish schools, said Smith was instrumental in his journey to becoming school board member.

“This event surpassed his intent,” Sanders said.

“He always talked about doing a smaller membership drive in a school cafeteria, and we ended up using a fancier venue.”

The group has a long way to go to build a community presence, according to King.

The St. John Parish chapter was the last to form among 64 parishes, and that void was evident during the biannual Retired Teacher Association state conferences she’s attended for the past eight years.

“A part of the reason we haven’t been able to organize committees is because we’ve been so small,” King said. “We need more members in order to plan activities with our seniors and support the state chapter in its legislative pursuit.”

St. John RTA meetings are held at 1 p.m. on the third Tuesday of January, April, July and October at the School Board annex building in Reserve.

For more information, call Sanders at 504-628-0306.