The vision to succeed: meet Yolanda Grisham

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
In the eight years since its inception, Downtown Elementary Optional School has been repeatedly recognized as a model for educational excellence. The school was opened under the leadership of Marcia Wunderlich who retired last year. After an extensive search where more than 50 applicants were vetted, Downtown Elementary now has a new visionary principal to lead this outstanding school to even greater heights. Her name is Yolanda Grisham.

Ms. Grisham’s administrative experience includes assistant principal at both White Station Elementary and High Schools. Previously she served in the United States Navy as an Air Traffic Controller. Her top priorities as principal for Downtown Elementary are “ensuring academic rigor, fostering a community of learners, developing character, and preparing students to compete in a global society.” Additionally, it is her belief that “success is not based on where a student originates, but rather it is contingent on the effectiveness of the educators who interact with the students on a daily basis.” When not at school, Ms. Grisham enjoys reading and spending time with her family. “I am very honored and excited to serve the students, staff, and community of Downtown Elementary. I believe I have a lot to offer this awesome school,” states Ms. Grisham. “I look forward to great things and progress this school year.”

Downtown Elementary in its short existence has a rich history. In 2003, the school opened its doors to welcome 540 students from 120 different public, county, private, home, and out-of-state schools. Today the school boasts of nearly 700 students along with 70 faculty and staff members. The school has six adopters and countless sponsors. These groups provide dozens of volunteers who tutor approximately 100 students through the Downtown Elementary Tutoring Program. The University of Tennessee provided funds to create the school’s science lab and sends doctors and scientists to the lab to conduct hands-on experiments with students. The Memphis Grizzlies established a Reading & Learning Center in the library. The Fogelman YMCA across the street from the school offers numerous programs for the Downtown Elementary children, including extended care, soccer, swimming, and water safety courses. These partnerships have helped Downtown Elementary to become one of the most acclaimed schools in the state.

Student academic progress has been impressive. Coming from divergent schools and backgrounds, the students have developed a cooperative spirit reflected in a school environment that values academic achievement and assuming personal responsibility. These values have led to Downtown Elementary students receiving innumerable awards and recognitions. A few of these are; 1st place at the West Tennessee History Day, dozens of ribbons from both the MCS and the Mid-South Science Fairs, student artwork regularly featured on the cover of Downtowner Magazine, six students selected by the Grizzlies to appear on NBA Stuff, and a 1st place student award in Senator Bill Frist’s “Sixth Grade Essay Contest.” Seven teachers have earned their National Board for Professional Teachers Certification and there are six current candidates. Additionally, six teachers have received the prestigious Rotary Award for Teacher Excellence. All teachers at Downtown Elementary are rated NCLB Highly Qualified and 70% of the faculty have advanced degrees.

So to give credit where credit is due, Ms. Grisham is the new force guiding Downtown Elementary to attaining even greater achievements. Her enthusiastic dedication to making Downtown Elementary a model for educational excellence is readily apparent from the moment you meet her. Ms. Grisham works tirelessly to extend school-community relations seeking out and securing resources, adopters, and volunteers. Her emphasis on maintaining the highest quality faculty and developing students both socially and academically is extending the school’s tradition of being an enviable success. Yolanda Grisham is a remarkable visionary, committed community leader, and outstanding educator. Under her direction Downtown Elementary is “Rising Above the Rest.”

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher and an Educational Consultant. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maxwell via email at


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