By Dr. Jack Maxwell

Since opening in 1949, Grahamwood Elementary School has had the good fortune of being led by principals who have possessed a progressive vision and the wherewithal to see their vision through. Grahamwood’s current principal is cut from the same cloth. At the beginning of 2018, Pete Johnson was honored by WREG-TV and the Tennessee Lottery as the Tennessee Educator of the Week. For the 2019-2020 school year, Pete Johnson was named the Shelby County Schools’ Principal of the Year and was nominated for the Tennessee Principal of the Year.

Starting his teaching career in Mississippi, Mr. Johnson worked as a special education teacher where he earned the first Teacher of the Year Award for DeSoto County Schools. He was then promoted to an assistant principal. Later, he joined Memphis City Schools as both an assistant principal and principal. After serving successfully both in Mississippi and Tennessee, Mr. Johnson was tapped as principal for Grahamwood Elementary beginning in the 2006-2007 school year. His administration has helped the school become one of the most requested elementary schools in Shelby County. As an Enriched Academics Optional School, Grahamwood is known for its rigorous curriculum, academic excellence, diversity, and for challenging students intellectually and creatively. 

“I strive to ensure that we provide the right setting for learning,” states Principal Johnson. “Our faculty and staff welcome every student and their family and provide them a safe space where they can thrive socially and academically.”

Principal Johnson came from a working-class background where 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 every day and do the best I can for my family.” 

As an extension of this, Principal Johnson is often the first person at school each day and the last to leave. He can greet virtually every student by name and most parents. He is extremely approachable and responsive to the needs of the entire school community. You can see him daily helping the students get into the school, walking the halls, helping out during lunch, and loading kids into cars at the end of the day. Through his vision and actions, he has helped built an enviable faculty whereby the entire school was named as a Reward School by the TDOE for a top 5 percent performer in the state. 

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

“When I was in the classroom, if a student came into my class and was behind their peers academically, I was going to get that student on grade level or close,” says Johnson. “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. This is what I expect from my teachers. Teachers must have high expectations for every student.” 

It is obvious when you visit Grahamwood Elementary that Principal Johnson’s vision is working. The hard work is paying off for students.

I have presented this bio of a successful educator’s vision as an example of what a well thought out plan, implemented by a capable educator, can do for a school when that leader is dedicated to the success of the students and faculty. Too often you find principals who are in it for their own ego or self-aggrandizement on their way to some lofty position at the SCS Board of Education or beyond. However, I can testify as both a parent and educator that if you look, you can find school leaders who are working for their students and their faculty. In the end, which ever school choice you make, please be sure the principal and you share the same vision for your children. 

Dr. Jack Maxwell is an educator, National Board Certified Teacher, and freelance writer. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maxwell at:

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