Taylor Wisneski said running for the Lansing School Board was not something that he had considered, despite some admittedly lofty political ambitions.
“I actually do want to be the President of the United States,” he said. “I’ve bounced back and forth between positions, but that’s the one that I’ve been with the longest.”
His Twitter account profile bears that out, with the hashtag #wisneski2032 appearing underneath his name.
Still, the 18-year-old said the prospect of running a political campaign —especially while trying to finish his senior year at Lansing High School — had not occurred to him until he got some words of encouragement.
“I had a teacher approach me saying ‘I would never ask another student to do this, but you would be the most fitting person,’” based on his interest in politics, he said he was told by LHS librarian Debra Hutton. “She said this is a stepping stone.”
Far from a “eureka” moment, Wisneski said the suggestion initially took him back.
“At first I had kind of a nervous panic because it had never been something I thought about,” he said. “But she said ‘talk it over with your parents, maybe some peers — see how it feels to you.’ I love education and education with politics, it just fit perfectly. And I knew it was something that I had to do.”
By the time the school’s winter break had started, Wisneski said he had officially filed for a seat on the Lansing School Board in the April 2 election, after talking it over with his parents, Travis and Jeanne Gray. He said they’ve been supportive.
“We don’t really talk about it day-to-day, but after I came home from the school board meeting (in January) they just listened to me rant on for hours,” he said. “They think it would be a
Wisneski credits a recent experience with a voter registration drive as part of the school’s leadership class as a formative political experience, but he said he’s always been willing to share his opinion and hear others out.
With his filing, he said he’s also immersing himself in data each day — reports, charts and other information available about education in Kansas and the Lansing School District — something that he admits to most people would seem “nerdy,” but is fascinating for him.
“There’s so much knowledge out there that I have to learn and I want to learn,” he said.
Despite the fact that he does not campaign on campus, he said word has steadily been getting around about his candidacy, both in and out of school.
“Almost by the day, I have people come up to me and say I’m proud of you or say that it’s kind of a neat thing,” Wisneski said.
Page 2 of 3 - As a high-school student running for school board, Wisneski is not alone, even this election cycle — another high school student, Chance Lammer, is currently running for a spot on the Shawnee Heights School Board in Tecumseh, Kan., near Topeka. But he said he realizes being a younger candidate might put him at a disadvantage in some voters’ eyes.
“I had a lady tell me that she didn’t really think I had a chance but it was nice someone so young was running,” he said. “I took that, not so much as a challenge, but as a push to be like, well, let’s see if I can not just run, but make it.”
It’s not just encouragement or his own ambition that motivated him to file — he said he thinks of his five-year-old brother, Jackson Gray when he considers the changes and challenges facing the district’s board, especially as they manage a $73 million construction project that includes a new high school and athletic facilities and a remaking of the current high school into a new middle school campus.
“I wanted to make sure that between the taxes, the bond and the new buildings — not just for my brother but for all students — that we got the best quality that we could get,” he said.
Wisneski said he supported the recent bond issue that will fund those projects, partially because he’s been in LHS’s congested hallways during passing periods and seen classes fill up more in the last few years — a perspective he feels could benefit the board. However, he said he feels the new high school could serve as a rallying point for the entire community.
“I don’t want people to just think there’s Lansing, the town of a few thousand people,” he said. “I want them to think there’s Lansing, they’re ahead in academics, in athletics, just everything under the sun.”
Wisneski chose a decidedly 21st-century method — Twitter — to officially announce his candidacy for the Lansing School Board. However, to get the word and his message to all voters, he said he’ll also utilize the time-tested tradition of going door-to-door. He said he’s got a campaign manager and is developing a sort of five-point message to quickly tell voters why he’s running and what he thinks is important. Early themes include “a youth’s perspective” and “the right direction for the future.” While reaching out to everyone, Wisneski said he has also made it a goal to engage students more in the local political process.
Next year, Wisneski said he will be attending Kansas State University for pre-law and leadership, with plans to attend Washburn University to finish his law degree afterward. As he finds his footing as a freshman in college, he said service on the school board would remain his top priority.
Page 3 of 3 - Still, with five other candidates against him — current board member Beth Stevenson, Rich Hauver, Sylvia Martens, Steven Buffo and Garrett Martin — there is no guarantee of a spot for him at the dais following April’s election. Wisneski keeps that in mind, but said he doesn’t view it as a missed opportunity in any case.
“This would mean a lot to me, win or lose,” he said.