New MSSU NAACP chapter hosts candidate forum for Joplin School Board

Mar. 26—Three of four Joplin Board of Education candidates participated in a forum Monday night held by Missouri Southern State University's new NAACP chapter.

The forum at the Memorial Education Center in Joplin included former board member Derek Gander and current board members John Hird and Rylee Hartwell. Candidate Victor Sly did not attend.

The four are running for two seats in the April 2 election; the top two vote-getters will serve three-year terms.

The chapter's first president, Taija Jones, a freshman business and mass communications major, served as moderator.

Gander, Hird and Hartwell, who at one point had all served together on the board, cited being a voice for students and the community and service to the public as reasons for running,

—"I want to make a difference," Gander said. "I wanted to be a voice for the students, the parents and the staff or teachers. I want to be an advocate for teachers and students. That was important. I wanted the opportunity to hold administration accountable. Second, I wanted to hold administration to a higher standard."

—"Growing up, I was in Scouting," Hird said. "I became an Eagle Scout, and they ingrained in your DNA that you have to give back to the community and live to make it a better community."

—"I'm a proud graduate of Joplin schools, born and raised here in Joplin," Hartwell said. "I truly believe in what we're doing here in Joplin schools, and really what that looks like for everybody in this room, but also our students, our teachers as well and those that we serve."

Hird and Gander said their experience as parents in the district was part of what set them apart. Hartwell said he brings a "culture of care" to his time on the board and wants to be a positive leader.

Jones asked the candidates about their top priorities if elected.

Each candidate cited working on student attendance and encouraging parental involvement.

Hird and Gander said they would like to promote programs at Franklin Technology Center, calling them underutilized.

Hartwell and Gander cited increases in teacher pay as a way to retain more teachers. Both said they would like to see that trend continue.

Jones asked the candidates if Franklin Tech was as important as the MOSO CAPS program, which stands for Center for Advanced Professional Studies and was launched in 2022. The program is a collaboration among local school districts, higher education and industry, and it offers high school students — typically upperclassmen — the opportunity to work toward a professional goal in local industry.

All three said the two programs are equally important but serve a different set of students.

They said Franklin Tech has potential to help students who might not be interested in college earn an industry-recognized certificate in a skill and begin making a good living right after high school.

They were also asked about their views on vouchers, which would allow parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools.

All three said they were opposed to vouchers, saying they would disproportionately hurt public schools. Gander allowed for exceptions in specific situations, such as bullying, and said parents shouldn't bear the burden of paying to transfer a student if the student's school district is not able to prevent a student from being bullied.

After the forum

Mack Peterson, second vice president of Southern's NAACP chapter, said she thought the forum went well and served the group's purpose.

"I see the importance of this event because it's important to let our community know who the candidates are and what their perspectives are on how they want to run the school board and be a part of the school board," Peterson said. "In the NAACP, we take pride in taking on voting rights, and voting rights are important not just on a national level but on the local level as well. I think tonight's event proved that."

Learn more Early voting has started for the April 2 election, which will feature candidates for area school boards and city councils. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. To see a video of Monday night's forum, go to