Writer Makes Case for Grahamwood as Great Education Option


By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

For those of us with young children, the time is drawing near to make a decision on choosing an elementary school. All children are unique and have their own needs and perform best under different circumstances and classroom environments. That said, parents know their children and must be proactive in selecting the school that best fits their child’s individuality. Parents today are fortunate to have school choice as an option. However, with choice comes a responsibility. Parents need to do the due diligence of researching and visiting a variety of schools to discover the one that best suits their child’s unique needs.

School choice time is now; therefore, I would like to introduce you to one of the great Shelby County Optional Schools — Grahamwood Elementary. For the last 30-plus years, Grahamwood Elementary has historically been the most requested elementary school in Shelby County. Academically speaking, Grahamwood was named an “A+ School” by the Memphis Business Journal for being one of the Mid-South’s 11 Top Performing Elementary Schools. Grahamwood Elementary was also voted a 2016 Family Choice Award by Memphis Parent magazine readers. Principal Pete Johnson was just featured on WKNO, receiving cityCURRENT’s 2016 School of the Year Award. Not surprisingly then, 97.1 percent of optional students are advanced/proficient in reading and 95.5 percent in mathematics. This adds up to Grahamwood Elementary earning a Tennessee Department of Education Level 5 (the highest) school certification five out of the last six years

Grahamwood Elementary’s student population is extremely diverse ethnically, culturally, religiously, and socio-economically. This diversity provides students with a unique exposure to divergent and expansive ideas that make Memphis the internationally appreciated city that it is. In the microcosm that is Grahamwood Elementary, students are immersed in a rich global environment that daily provides them the social skills they will need to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world. By the happy looks on the students’ faces, it is evident that this inclusive educational environment is what our community needs more of to develop well-adjusted, culturally-aware citizens.     

Grahamwood utilizes a school within a school model with about half of the students choosing the optional program and half the more traditional path. The school has about 400 optional students in its Enriched Academic program who come from every corner of Memphis and Shelby County. The optional program is for 1st to 5th grade students who qualify based on academics, conduct, and attendance. Currently, there are over 350 CLUE students, including 35 students in the new pre-kindergarten CLUE classes taught by the renowned National Board Certified Teacher, Janis Pankey.

Grahamwood Elementary’s reputation continues to grow under the able administration of Principal Pete Johnson and Assistant Principal Tia James. Their steady hands, along with all of the faculty and staff’s wholehearted commitment, are evident the minute you walk through the front door. The office staff is welcoming, professional, and helpful. The teachers are smiling and friendly, and most importantly you will observe that the students are purposefully engaged in the business of acquiring knowledge. The students’ work is displayed in every hallway and even a passing glance will show you that it is of the highest quality and rigor. Teachers obviously hold their students to exacting standards, and, if asked, the students will proudly tell you all about what they are currently learning, demonstrating their deep understanding of the purpose of their studies as well as expounding upon their new-found knowledge.

Beyond these outstanding qualities, Grahamwood Elementary offers a number of in-house extension programs that help students and their families. Both before and after care are available to accommodate working parents’ schedules. Additionally, students can take advantage of a number of classes beyond the core curriculum. These include Chinese, karate, ballet, tap dancing, gymnastics, piano, guitar, strings, tutoring, cheerleading, running club, and chess. The chess club competes in numerous tournaments and won the 2016 National Elementary Chess Championship! During the day, students take part in enrichment classes that serve to enhance their overall educational experience. These classes are library, CLUE, computer/technical writing, Orff music, character education, physical education, and art. Finally, one of the most unique features of Grahamwood are the numerous community partnerships that include FedEx, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Orpheum, Community Gardeners, Kroger, Theater Memphis, and Rhodes College.

As you begin your school search, I highly recommend that parents of elementary age students give Grahamwood Elementary a look. It is conveniently located at the edge of Midtown and East Memphis just off of Sam Cooper at Graham Street and Summer Avenue. Whether you are looking for high-quality academics, a program that develops social skills, or just a well-rounded diverse educational experience for your child, Grahamwood Elementary School could be the school for you. I encourage you to drop by, take a tour, and judge for yourself.

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a freelance writer and a National Board Certified Teacher at Grahamwood Elementary with 30 years of educational experience. Please forward questions or comments to: djacksonmaxwell@gmail.com

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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