“We’ve done a lot and even had some fun along the way, but we have a lot more to do,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said during his second State of the County message. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

An investment in education – specifically the possibility of a new school in Frayser – was among the focus areas highlighted by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris in a 2020 State of the County address themed “We can do more.”

In a 30-minute speech to a crowd at Collierville High School, Harris unveiled seven focuses for the remainder of his four-year term, also including local criminal justice reform and increasing healthcare access.

Harris mingles and listens after his 2020 State of the County address. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

“We’ve done a lot and even had some fun along the way, but we have a lot more to do,” Harris said during his second State of the County message.

Part of the “more” Harris mentioned was building a $50-million high school in Frayser. The speech’s venue was the Collierville Schools district’s state-of-the-art high school and Harris noted that many schools across the county were quite the opposite.

“Most of our schools are crumbling and in need of vital repairs,” he said, pointing out that no new school has been built by the Shelby County Schools district since it was formed in 2013.

To emphasize the dire need for new schools, Harris referred to the launch of his Vo-Tech program last year at MLK College Preparatory High School in Frayser. MLK served as the pilot for the program. Harris said a lack of resources in the school led to he and his team having to meet students in the library, as opposed to a designated space for the Vo-tech program.

“MLK and the other high school in Frayser – Trezevant – are not set up for success,” he said. “I believe Frayser is as good a place as any to plant a flag and make a start.”

Charlie Caswell, founder of Legacy of Legends CDC in Frayser, works closely with students at MLK College Prep. He believes that a new school will happen if there is a collaboration between the city, county, state and community stakeholders.

“My kids have seen me fighting for this community for years, but they had to leave the community to go to another school to take AP courses. It was disappointing,” Caswell said. “So to have a new school in this community, where kids don’t have to leave for something better, will be a game changer.”

How to fund the new school is unclear. Harris said the county would work closely with Shelby County Schools to make it a reality.

Other focuses

Harris embraced a plan to reduce recidivism by “banning the box,” an approach he said would require employers in selected fields to remove from hiring applications the question that exposes a job seeker’s criminal history.

“We know that ex-offenders just need a chance, and that if you have a record too often employers don’t let you even get your foot in the door,” he said.

Harris also announced the creation of “Sustainable Shelby.” The initiative’s goal is to promote sustainability and preserve the environment.

Among the other focuses Harris outlined were:

* More services for veterans,

* Introduction of paid prenatal leave for SCS employees,

* Investing in neighborhoods to fight blight, and

* Better access to healthcare for Shelby County residents by working with clinics to provide more services.

Accounting for time served

Before sharing his future plans, Harris reviewed what he considered achievements made since he took office in 2018.

The highlights included expanding voter access, a historic investment in Pre-K education and the county’s first commitment (seven figures) to an annual investment in public transportation.

“But we can do more,” he said.

Honorable mention

 Before Harris took the stage, two 2020 Shining Stars were also named: Christine Johnson, a retired principal of Alcy Elementary and Karla Willingham Templeton, a teacher at Houston Middle School.

Gallery: Photos by Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises