Rep. Biss seeks informed view, looks into educational practices

Nirali Dave & Tammy Craven, editor-in-chief & asst. news editor

Illinois State Representative Daniel Biss of the 17th District visited GBS and shadowed Principal Brian Wegley Oct. 5 to become informed about the school and public education.

The day began at 7 a.m. with Biss attending a Rotary Club breakfast with Wegley, followed by visiting classes and touring South. He met with Student Council to gain insight from students’ perspectives, and later met with teachers, parents and administrators.

According to Wegley, the goal of the day was not to make any specific decisions; rather, Biss sought to be informed about education.

“Some of the votes and things he’s involved in will impact us, so we talked to him about who we are, what we’re about and what our thoughts are on that and his thoughts on that, what he’s thinking and how he’s thinking about different issues that will impact education and frankly impact the state as a whole,” Wegley stated.

Biss serves on committees for elementary and secondary education that write the House’s version of the public education budget. He believes in order to take that responsibility seriously, it is necessary for him to really understand how schools work.

“This is one of many steps I take to educate myself about the day-to-day needs and practices and successes and challenges of public schools in my district,” he explained.

Junior Jack Stillman was impressed with Biss’s genuine personality and the thought behind his responses to students’ questions.

“At first I imagined him being kind of like the stereotypical, political kind of guy, avoiding questions, or just using standard arguments that he probably had prewritten,” Stillman explained. “But I was kind of amazed at how on-the-spot he [was] for everything that I asked him. That even included just new ideas I was just coming up to him with so the fact that he could come up on the spot and give an opinion on it kind of impressed me.”

Moreover, junior Konstantine Kosmidis explained that during the meeting with Student Council, Biss not only talked about policies in the educational field, but talked about the pressure he gets from lobbyists when it comes to voting.

“I found that really interesting that at times he was willing to risk his job and his position for the sake of people and that’s something extraordinary in my mind […],” Kosmidis said. “We don’t see that happening very often in our state government and even in the federal government.”

While Stillman enjoyed talking with Biss, and believes we have much more to learn from him, he thinks  a takeaway for Biss and other politicians should be bipartisanship.

“With Student Council, we don’t form parties or vote according to that, and if there’s anything he could learn from that, it’s just listen to the idea and vote to your heart’s content as opposed to maybe what someone else thinks you should vote,” Stillman said.

Beyond policies, in his talk with Student Council, Biss discussed with students what they believe makes South unique. He learned students most value a supportive environment at school, and that a well-defined education system will provide one.

“The two key aspects of a successful school are to simultaneously have a broad and deep network of academic resources to make sure people have the resources they need to learn what they’re supposed to learn and then to have the network of support that plays to enable them to actually go and take advantages of it while they’re there,” Biss said.

Furthermore, after meeting with other staff and parents, Biss realized everyone must come together in order to make GBS successful. He believes the environment must be collaborative and hopes to foster collaboration through policies, as they will benefit the community.

“The main takeaway is that I found an institution where everybody and that means teachers, other staff, students and parents, focused on maximizing educational opportunity,” Biss said. “That’s actually not true in every school. […] What I sensed at GBS is that you have that engagement on every level and that kind of basic mission that we have in the building because they are committed to maximizing students’ opportunity to learn and develop.”

Because of this, Wegley believes Biss saw what makes South such a special place.

“It’s a place that is truly a comprehensive school where we care about each other,” Wegley said. “There’s a high stability, there’s great people, and he got to see that and understand why we are so passionate about protecting that.”

Despite his learning over the day, Biss understands it is dangerous to write a bill as a result of one day’s findings. Instead of writing state legislation based on solely one school, he believes it is important to have subtle, accurate filters when analyzing proposals based on what he has learned. Biss explained he would like to know what works effectively, and what areas need to be improved on a policy level. He encourages people to keep in touch with him and explain what can be done to improve educational quality.

Wegley hopes that from Biss, students realize how important it is to become educated firsthand about things they can vote on.

“What he is doing is demonstrating a truly inspiring model to make sure you’re as informed as you can be about issues that you’re going to have to vote on, to make decisions on and I greatly respect that,” Wegley said.