Grahamwood principal sees the importance of vision in education


Dorsey Hopson III (left) with Grahamwood Elementary Principal Pete Johnson with students showcasing a project on Egypt.

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

Since first opening in 1949, Grahamwood Elementary School has repeatedly been recognized throughout Memphis and beyond as being a model of educational excellence. Today, the school is home to nearly 1,000 students of which approximately 500 are in-district and 500 are Optional students. Approximately 300 students are CLUE (Creative Learning in a Unique Environment) qualified. Grahamwood Elementary has had the great fortune of having outstanding leaders throughout its existence. Its principals have possessed viable visions and the wherewithal to see their visions through in order to create a nurturing environment that encourages students to learn.

Pete Johnson is just this kind of leader. As Grahamwood Elementary’s principal since the 2006-2007 school year, his administration has helped the school become the most requested Optional Elementary School in the Shelby County School system. As an Enriched Academics Optional School, Grahamwood is known for its rigorous curriculum and for challenging the students’ intellectually and creatively.

“We must create the right setting for learning,” states Johnson. “We strive to welcome all students and provide them a safe environment in which to learn.”

Principal Johnson hails from a working-class background, and his parents instilled in him a strong work ethic.

“I came from a hardworking family whose model I still follow,” says Johnson. “I learned that they expected me to work hard and do the best I can. I am to do my best to make a good living for my family.”

To this end, Johnson is often the first at school and the last to leave. He can call every student and most of the parents by name. He is responsive to the needs of the school community and has built an enviable faculty. In fact, 100% of the faculty holds bachelor degrees, 71% have master degrees, and 11% have earned a doctorate or Ed.S.

Starting his teaching career with DeSoto County Schools, Johnson worked as a special education teacher where he earned the 1st Year Teacher of the Year Award. He was then promoted to an assistant principal. Later, he joined Memphis City Schools as an assistant principal at Crump Elementary before being selected as Grahamwood Elementary’s principal. His educational philosophy is that as educators, it is imperative that we create an environment where kids can be nurtured socially and academically. Further, he has welcomed to the school many new initiatives such as the Urban Farms to School Program, Bricks 4 Kidz, STEM Afterschool Program, Orpheum performances, a Certified National Wildlife Foundation Outdoor Classroom and Monarch Way Station, and even the construction by the parent-teacher organization of a pavilion soon to be gym. Under Principal Johnson’s guidance, the school grounds and facilities have undergone an impressive transformation.

As far as student academic achievement goes, Principal Johnson has some very strong beliefs.

“When I was in the classroom, if a student came to my class, I was going to get that student on grade level or close. If I wasn’t able to do it today, I would go home at night and research another way of teaching so I could get the student to succeed the next day,” says Johnson. “This is what I expect from my teachers today. Teachers must have high expectations for every student.”

It is obvious when you walk through the doors at Grahamwood Elementary that Principal Johnson’s vision is working. The hard work is paying off for the students socially and academically. The faculty is engaged in creating a safe, nurturing environment where all students can learn. A little over a year ago, Johnson was honored with the Well Child Principal of the Year Award. To those of us who work for him, this was no surprise. A piece of advice, whatever school you choose make sure you and the principal share the same vision for your children.

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:   


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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