Get to know Downtown Elementary

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
Nine years ago, Downtown Elementary Optional School opened its doors, and since then it has become a model of excellence. Under the visionary leadership of Principal Yolanda Finnie, the school is on the cusp of even greater success. In this time of educational change and reform, Principal Finnie is guiding Downtown Elementary toward attaining the highest level of achievement. This year begins with a new Assistant Principal Toya Riddick. Like Ms. Finnie, Ms. Riddick has spent the summer working tirelessly to prepare the school for the upcoming year. The final member of the administrative team is Instructional Facilitator, Elisa Bennett.
Downtown Elementary has a rich history. The University of Tennessee Health Sciences Department created the Downtown Elementary Science Lab and sends scientists, researchers, doctors, and other professionals to conduct hands-on experiments with the students. The Memphis Grizzlies established a Reading & Learning Center in the school library. The Fogelman YMCA, across the street from the school, provides numerous programs for Downtown Elementary children including extended care, soccer, basketball, swimming, and water safety courses. Drama classes are conducted by Playhouse on the Square. These partnerships, along with assistance from all five of Downtown Elementary’s official sponsors, have helped the school become one of the most recognized and acclaimed elementary schools in the state.
Being an Optional School, Downtown Elementary students come from divergent backgrounds and neighborhoods. The faculty and administration have used this diversity to develop a school environment that is both caring and cooperative in spirit. The school culture is one that values academic achievement and personal responsibility. High expectations have led to Downtown Elementary students receiving numerous awards and recognitions. A few of these are 1st place at the West Tennessee History Day, dozens of ribbons from both the MCS and Mid-South Science Fairs, student artwork regularly featured in Downtowner Magazine, students selected by the Grizzlies to appear on the nationally broadcast NBA Stuff, and a student winning Senator Frist’s statewide “Sixth Grade Essay Contest.” Eight Downtown Elementary teachers have earned National Board Certification, three more are pending notification, and there are five current National Board candidates. Six teachers have received the prestigious Rotary Award for Teacher Excellence. All teachers at Downtown Elementary are rated NCLB Highly Qualified. Additionally, 70% of the faculty have earned advanced degrees.
Downtown Elementary is looking forward to a wonderful, productive year under the capable direction of Principal Yolanda Finnie and her administrative team. Ms. Finnie is a remarkable leader, a great motivator, and outstanding principal. Her dedication to making Downtown Elementary a model for educational excellence is readily apparent. She consistently works to build strong parent-community-school relations and has been rewarded with the ongoing support of volunteers, nonprofit sponsors, and corporate adopters. Ms. Finnie’s emphasis on maintaining the highest quality faculty continues to lead to numerous grants and recognitions. Her focus on developing students socially and academically is bearing results. As Downtown Elementary’s motto states, she has created a school that “Rises Above the Rest.” Please feel free to drop by Downtown Elementary (10 N. Fourth Street, 901-416-8400) to take a tour and see for yourself.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher at Downtown Elementary and an educational consultant. If you have questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maxwell at

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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