Gov. Bill Lee made a stop in Hendersonville on Friday as the keynote speaker for COMPASS’s annual Speaker Series Luncheon.
The non-profit organization Community Outreach Making Partnerships at Sumner Schools promotes partnerships between local businesses and schools to provide more opportunities and resources for Sumner County students and teachers.
Those who attended the event at Long Hollow Baptist Church included business, educational and political leaders from across the county, including state legislators Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), Rep. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville), several Sumner County commissioners and school board members; Director of Schools Del Phillips; Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary and Sumner County Sheriff Sonny Weatherford.
COMPASS Executive Director Debra Maggart, a former state legislator and current lobbyist with the law firm Frost, Brown, Todd, introduced Lee who highlighted some of his educational and economic development initiatives.
“I appreciate the work of this organization and the work that you do to actually make it happen out in your community,” said Lee. “We are very focused on moving the needle in education going forward.”
Lee noted that Tennessee Promise, an initiative begun by former Gov. Bill Haslam that offers high school students the opportunity to attend community or technical college free of tuition or other mandatory fees, was first begun in Sumner County years ago under the Educate and Grow scholarship.
“We want to build upon that,” said Lee. “We should be transforming our work place and part of the way we do that is by expanding educational opportunities for children across our state.”
Lee said the state is seeing companies in record numbers interested in moving to Tennessee.
“We’re talking to major corporations,” he said.
On Monday the governor announced Ford Motor Company’s selection of the Memphis Regional Megasite for one of the largest battery and vehicle manufacturing campuses in the country. The estimated $5.6 billion investment will bring production of the company’s all-electric F-Series trucks to the area beginning in 2025, according to the announcement. The project is expected to create 5,800 new jobs in West Tennessee.
A key component to attracting businesses is an improved educational system, he noted.
“So the work that you’re doing is very important,” Lee told COMPASS supporters.
The governor also stressed the importance of in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were a state that lead in in-person learning. We do know now that in-person learning is incredibly important,” he said. “That’s why we’re so committed to it.”
While school districts were given the flexibility to hold virtual or hybrid classes during the 2020-2021 school year, that is not the case in the 2021-2022 school year.
On Sept. 7 the Sumner County Board of Education passed a resolution asking the state Department of Education and the Tennessee legislature for more flexibility in dealing with COVID-19. Sumner County Schools closed for four days in September in order to control the spread of the virus amid a Delta variant. The school board has asked that either the state DOE or the legislature waive the requirement that the school district use its inclement weather days in order to close schools.
When asked during a media briefing immediately following his COMPASS appearance if his administration would consider the requests, Lee said that wasn’t his decision to make.
“I can get you some information on that,” he said.
Lee said there is a lot of work to be done in moving the state’s education system forward.
“We already had numbers that needed improving before the pandemic,” he said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
He promised “bold pieces of legislation” aimed at education when the state legislature returns in January.
“Every year it will be a priority for us,” he said. “You’ll see big pieces of legislation every year that I’m governor.”