Clear Lake school leads Keizer elementaries

Clear Lake Elementary has traditionally been a school that has done well in academic progress in comparison to the state average. 

Under Artonya Gemmil, who took over as principal last year, Clear Lake continued to see academic success in the 2018-19 school year.

Clear Lake experienced a 5 percent bump in students meeting or exceeding grade level requirements for language arts in 2018-19, going from 66 percent to 71 percent — the state average is at 51 percent.

Clear Lake also had 67 percent of their students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations in math, an 11 percent increase from the previous school year — the state average is 43 percent. 

Along with having the highest marks in Keizer among elementary schools, Clear Lake was the only school in the city to experience growth in math and language arts. They were also one of two schools in Keizer to score “high” in the individual student progress section.

“I can’t say that I’m just this magic pill that made the school blossom, I just continued practices that we have had here already and then just made a few tweaks here and there where I felt it was needed,” Gemmil said. “For the most part with my staff, I trust their professional judgement and what they do. But I’m also there to support when needed, so if there’s other materials that we can provide to support staff, we do.”

While having every student at grade level is a goal of Gemmil’s, what’s more important to the Clear Lake principal is making sure her students are progressing at their own pace.

“What we do is just meet the kids where they’re at and do what we can to make sure they are successful as possible. Sometimes kids will be at grade level and beyond, and sometimes they won’t. But our staff is really committed to doing what we can to make sure that students are growing and progressing,” Gemmil said. “We don’t put a big emphasis on saying to kids that they must be at grade level, even though that is the goal. We want to make sure that kids are making progress no matter what, because we know that everyone is different and everybody doesn’t have the same skill-set and everybody is going to grow at a different rate and pace.”

Gemmil, who was the principal at Brush College Elementary in Salem before coming over to Clear Lake, says that over the last two school years, she has done a lot of collaborative work with the staff to make sure they meeting the needs of the students. 

One of the “tweaks” that Gemmil made when she came to Clear Lake was to put a heavier emphasis on core instruction. 

“For the last couple years, we have just really been focusing on making sure that we are building a strong core instructional foundation,” Gemmil said. “’We want to make sure our core instruction is pretty solid before we add any other initiatives or incentives. Our focus was to get back to the basics.”

However, Gemmil does believe that adding the right incentives can be vital. For example, last month the school started holding monthly assemblies where the staff would recognize students that exemplified positive character traits over the course of the month.

“Extrinsic motivation isn’t always what people want, but we know that’s where we need to start to get that intrinsic motivation. We like to have fun. I’ll get in the mascot costume and start running around. I’ll do whatever to make sure we’re all connecting with each other,” Gemmil said. 

Gemmil conceded that a reason for Clear Lake’s success was due to how they are one of the most affluent schools in the district — 38 percent of students are on a free/reduced lunch plan, which is the lowest in Keizer.

Gemmil also commented on how important having a supportive parent community is to student success.

“I know that Clear Lake historically has had a very supportive community and they continue to be supportive. I think that makes a big difference in the success of our students, because we do have a lot of families that are involved in some sort of way,” Gemmil said. “We really try and utilize our community.”

However, like any school, Clear Lake has it challenges.

“We don’t have every kid exactly where we want them to be. What we are really doing is working together as a unit to really try to focus on finding out where kids are struggling and what they are missing,” Gemmil said. 

While Gemmil wishes that the school had more of an ability to give students more individualized attention, she is pleased with how the Clear Lake works with what they have in terms of staffing and support. 

“Sometimes it is a challenge. We would love to have more staff and we would love to have smaller class sizes, but our (instructional assistants) are really good with support and our office staff does a good job supporting as well. We work a lot as a unit to try and support students when we can. We’re not perfect. We’re not at 100 percent. But we are really working to find those right core interventions that will have the biggest impact on kiddos,” Gemmil said.