New principals for Keizer, Clear Lake and Liberty elementary schools and for Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School announced for the 2020-21 school year

Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) has named new principals for three elementary schools in Salem and Keizer. Last week, SKPS announced Artonya Gemmill and Christine Bowlby as the new administrators to lead the district’s new EDGE online program, leaving openings at their previous schools, Clear Lake and Keizer Elementary, respectively.

Greg Watson will serve as principal at Clear Lake Elementary. Lizi Aguilar-Nelson, formerly the principal at Liberty Elementary, will serve as principal at Keizer Elementary. Sophia Duerst has been named as Liberty’s new principal.

“We are thrilled to have some incredible leaders move into these,” said Elementary Level Director Olga Cobb. “This year will bring new challenges and I have no doubt that Greg, Lizi and Sophia will provide guidance and direction for their schools as students return to learning.”

Watson, Aguilar-Nelson and Duerst will begin with their new schools effective Monday, July 27, 2020.

Lizi Aguilar-Nelson | Principal
Keizer Elementary School

Principal Aguilar-Nelson

Lizi first began her career with SKPS 30 years ago as a bilingual instructional assistant, and a home school liaison. In 1994, she became a bilingual teacher working at Grant, Swegle and Lee elementary schools. After teaching in the classroom, Aguilar-Nelson worked as an English language coach, while becoming a certified GLAD and ELD trainer and earning her administrative license from Portland State University. In 2007 Aguilar-Nelson accepted her first principal position at Richmond Elementary where she served for eight years. Lizi then moved to Liberty Elementary and has served there for the last five years. Lizi is committed to strong and robust instruction for all students while building partnerships with all stakeholders.

Greg Watson | Principal
Clear Lake Elementary School

Principal Watson

Greg Watson is a Salem-Keizer native and a product of Salem-Keizer Public Schools. Watson has more than 23 years of experience in education, serving as a classroom teacher for 13 years where teaching grades 3-5. As a teacher, Greg was a member on the leadership team and hosted numerous student teachers in his classroom. From the classroom, he joined the SKPS mentor team and supported beginning teachers across the district. In the fall of 2018 Watson joined Chávez Elementary as the behavior specialist and administrative intern. Greg also provided support to Lee Elementary as an instructional mentor in the Spring of 2019. Most recently Watson has served as the assistant principal at Four Corners Elementary.

Sophia Duerst | Principal
Liberty Elementary School

Principal Duerst

Sophia Duerst began her career in the Silver Falls school district teaching both primary and intermediate grades. In 2013, she joined SKPS as the assistant coordinator for the district’s early learning programs. Sophia spent five years working with the district’s youngest learners, their parents and their teachers. She found joy in helping families build positive, lasting relationships with the school district as they began their educational journey. In 2018, Sophia was hired as assistant principal at Auburn Elementary school.

Sophia served on the districts’ attendance committee and she helped Auburn kick off the Every Day, 24J attendance campaign. Most recently, she served as the assistant principal at Pringle elementary school.

Sophia is committed to equitable outcomes for all students and firmly believes that every child can excel and that the partnership between home and school helps build confidence in students. She considers one of her most important roles as being a mother to her three children, Claire (8), Ainsley (6) and Easton (4). Sophia looks forward to spending time getting to know her students, staff and families and letting them know they are all valued and have a special place in school.

In addition to new principals at the elementary level, Dr. Jesse Payne has also been named principal at Jane Goodall Enviornmental Middle School (JGEMS).

Dr. Jesse Payne | Principal
Valley Inquiry and JGEMS charter schools

Dr. Payne

Dr. Jesse Payne has served as principal at Valley Inquiry Charter School for the past two years and will continue serving in that role. Prior to joining SKPS, Jesse served as director of Undergraduate Teacher Education at Corban University.

Payne has served as an elementary school teacher, high school teacher, paraprofessional, university professor, higher education administrator and human resources director. Payne received his bachelor’s degree in business, master’s degree in education and graduated from the University of Southern California with a doctorate degree in education with an emphasis in K-12 leadership. He has published multiple books about the brain and how it relates to teaching, learning and human behavior. Payne lives in Salem with his wife and two children. He has a passion for advocating for underrepresented students, mental health initiatives, social justice, equity and effective leadership practices.