Dr. Maryam Mohammadkhani is sworn in for a second term on the Springfield Public School's Board of Education on April 9, 2024. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

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A Springfield Board of Education member’s recent ascension within a political party fell under criticism by a candidate in the 2024 school board race.

During public comments at a Springfield Board of Education meeting May 21, Kyler Sherman-Wilkins spoke about board member Maryam Mohammadkhani’s election to the Missouri Republican National Committee.

Sherman-Wilkins asked for the board to review its ethics policies over such affiliations, and for Mohammadkhani to offer details on how her new position will not clash with her duties on the board.

“We all carry political biases, political ideologies and we may affiliate with a political party, and that doesn’t disqualify from serving on the school board,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “However, having a sitting board member who serves in the leadership of an organization that is charged with aiding, developing and promoting the Republican brand and political platform is frankly inappropriate for a nonpartisan board.”

Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, an associate professor of sociology at Missouri State University. (Photo by Joe Hadsall)

Mohammadkhani was elected as committeewoman to the Missouri Republican Party during its convention May 4 in Springfield. During a period for board comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, she defended her election to the party post.

“I have never let politics enter into the board room,” Mohammadkhani said. “I have been beating the drum on technology, on curriculum, on mental health, on discipline, everything. And my focus has been to educate children to the best of our ability collectively, and using public funds in a responsible way, so that we have young adults who can read, write, do math … if working to make that happen makes me political, then so be it.”

Mohammadkhani and Sherman-Wilkins were two of seven candidates for three seats on the school board for the April 2 election. First elected in 2021, Mohammadkhani won re-election to her seat, finishing with the third-most votes, while Sherman-Wilkins finished in seventh.

Both of them were endorsed by the Springfield NEA, the union that represents SPS teachers.

Sherman-Wilkins on his campaign Facebook page said he is planning to run for one of two seats available on the board in 2025. The terms of board members Kelly Byrne and Steve Makoski will end in April.

‘We are not winning Springfield'

During his presentation May 21, Sherman-Wilkins expressed concern about a speech Mohammadkhani delivered to a Missouri Republican Party convention that was filled with rhetoric derived from the party’s talking points.

“This board member noted that compromise, negotiation and working with the other side to deliver results is a problem, because it prevents conservatives from getting all that they want,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “The presence of a relatively high ranking partisan figure on the board of education could jeopardize the board’s ability to make impartial and fair decisions.”

Mohammadkhani confirmed to the Springfield News-Leader that a video of her speech was accurate. In that speech, she criticized “uni-party” Republicans reaching across the aisle for policy decisions.

“If you want to win, you need to win in southwest Missouri,” she said in the speech. “Well, let me tell you, we are not winning in Springfield, and they will not stop. They have the blueprint to take the whole state. They know how and they are going to succeed because our leaders are negotiating.”

During board member comments, board member Steve Makoski congratulated Mohammadkhani on her new position, saying it may lead to more prominence and attention with the state’s elected Republican leaders.

“I think it’s a really advantageous situation where it could benefit not just Springfield Public Schools, but all of the school districts,” Makoski said. “Because you’re in a position where many of the lawmakers will be making decisions that can benefit the education system.”

Taking aim at Missouri legislature's action in education

In her comments, Mohammadkhani said she hopes her position can lead the Springfield school board to take more assertive stances on statewide education policies. She said she was frustrated that the board rejected her proposal to support a bill that would remove the state’s power to create a statewide assessment system, and noted that a bill that expanded the state’s “school choice” program was signed into law.

Calling the bill “a complex piece of legislation,” Superintendent Grenita Lathan in April said the bill could have a detrimental effect on state funding to public schools.

“We’ve done nothing,” Mohammadkhani said. “No legislation has moved forward to help the public schools … we’re effectively being strangulated by regulations and nothing is being done.”

Mohammadkhani also criticized a legislative platform written by Byrne as “lukewarm.” In January, she voted alongside the rest of the board in support of that platform.

“At the end of the day it was a lukewarm legislative platform that was super broad,” Mohammadkhani said. “It was nice, it was better than what it was, but it didn’t get the job done.”

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Hauxeda. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or jhadsall@hauxeda.com. More by Joe Hadsall