Same team, new roles: Farrell Seymore and Kelli Fischer ready to start another year at Opelika City Schools | Local News

LAUREN JOHNSON

As Opelika City Schools prepare for classes to start on Monday, the superintendent and Opelika High School principal are in new roles and ready to go.

Farrell Seymore, previously the OHS principal, stepped into the superintendent position after Mark Neighbors retired in May. Neighbors served in the position for 15 years and worked in education for more than 36 years.

Kelli Fischer, previously an OHS assistant principal, was then named the new principal for the high school.

Seymore and Fischer have worked together in Opelika City Schools for six years and will continue to work together to benefit the school system in their new roles.

“One great thing about Opelika is the consistency over time,” Seymore said. “I’m only the ninth superintendent since our founding, so that speaks very highly of this community. We do not have a lot of transition and turnover.”

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Seymore said one of the great things about OCS is that it has been able to recruit and grow many effective leaders internally, and he hopes to continue that legacy.

He said he’s seen Fischer work with a number of students in very difficult situations, which has made an impact on those students and their families. He’s excited to see her “put her own stamp” on OHS, he said.

“Kelli Fisher is a dynamic educator and leader,” he said. “I have the highest confidence in her to continue to build upon the great things that have occurred at Opelika High School and really make it even better. She is intelligent, high-energy, and above all, deeply cares and is committed to children.”

The respect between the two is mutual.

“He is just a fountain of knowledge and is always available if I have a question,” Fischer said. “I think that has also been comforting for me to know that he’s not new to me either. We’ve worked together for six years and we understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses and styles.”

Fischer said Seymore has been a mentor to her and believes this year will be a continuation of their partnership.

“He does not want to do this role,” she said of the high school principal job. “He wants me to do this role. He wants to support me but also wants to let me lead.”

Superintendent

Seymore said he was drawn to education because he’s a “people person” and loves learning.

“I love the process of learning, puzzle-solving and figuring things out, and education is like that,” he said. “It’s being able to share and elevate people with knowledge that can help them in some way, and that was very appealing to me. Education is also about people. It’s about relationships.”

When Seymore was a kid, he helped out with Vacation Bible School and believes that opportunity helped shape him.

After graduating from West Point High School in Cullman, he attended Auburn University and earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education in biology and English.

One of Seymore’s professors of English education, Terry Ley, introduced him to Neighbors, who was then the principal of Opelika Middle School.

“That’s where my interest in Opelika first started,” Seymore said. “That led all the way to an interview, and long story short, I accepted a job at Opelika Middle School.”

He began teaching science in 1997 at OMS, where he originally thought he would only stay for a few years, get his master’s degree and move back home.

But, he said, the Lord had other plans. After his first year of teaching, he knew Opelika was where he wanted to grow professionally and personally.

“I remember teaching my first year, thinking, ‘This is an awesome place,'” Seymore said. “The support, the level of professionalism among the teachers and staff was so high, the resources were readily available and, more than that, the culture of the school and the teachers was that of ‘students first.’”

Seymore later earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in educational administration and met his wife Sarah, who is now a speech pathologist for OCS.

Seymore and his wife have two children, Anna, a sophomore at Florida State University who is studying to be an English teacher, and Patrick, a junior at OHS.

Over the past 25 years, Seymore has worked at OCS in different roles.

He was a seventh-grade science teacher for five years, a middle school assistant principal for five years and a middle school principal for four years – all at OMS – and then served as principal of OHS for 11 years.

Seymore said that throughout his career he had someone to show him the ropes, including Kenneth Burton, his former principal at OMS and a former assistant superintendent of administration, and Neighbors, his predecessor as superintendent.

“I’m very thankful to Dr. Mark Neighbors for his guidance over his tenure here,” Seymore said. “He’s been very instrumental and left me in a situation that’s wonderful, with great people and great resources.”

This year, Seymore says his priorities include working closely with the principals and visiting classrooms.

“My commitment to the families and the children of this community is that they’re gonna get my best effort every day,” he said.

OHS Principal

Fischer was inspired to follow in the footsteps of her parents and become educators like them.

Her mother was a math teacher and media specialist, and her father was a history teacher and coach for multiple sports.

“I saw from an early age just how much of an impact they were able to have on students,” Fischer said. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and a coach.”

Fischer earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary social science education from Auburn University in 2011 and a master’s degree in instructional leadership and administration from Troy University in 2016.

She began her education career at Phenix City Intermediate School in August 2011, where she taught civics and geography and coached softball. She continued her career at Smiths Station High School from 2012-2016 as a teacher and coach.

“My first year teaching is when my dad said, ‘You have what it take to be an administrator; I really think you should think about getting your master’s in that.’ I hadn’t really thought about that aspect of it until he mentioned that,” Fischer said.

After three years of teaching, she decided to listen to her father’s “voice of reason” and started her master’s program. During her teaching years, she had the opportunity to teach students whose parents were taught by her mother, she said.

By 2016, Fischer landed her first administration position as assistant principal of OHS.

Before her interview for the job, she said, her father gave her some advice that will stick with her forever.

“He just said, ‘Remember that it’s all about if you fit the need at the time. It’s not personal. It’s do you fit the need of what the school has at the time?’” Fischer said.

Going from the classroom to administration was a big change, Fischer said, and she had to shift her focus from an individual class to the needs of the school as a whole.

During her first year as assistant principal, Fischer said, she worked hard to figure out how to build relationships with students. She didn’t want the students to think someone was going to get in trouble when she was around, and he wanted them to know she cared about them as a person.

“After six years, all the students know me, and I hope that if you were to ask them, that they would say we know that she cares about us,” she said.

Now stepping into the principal position, Fischer said she has the advantage of knowing the school system, and she plans to continue the good work Seymore has done for the school as well as bring new ideas to the table.

Fischer said that students, parents and faculty members can expect to see her passion for the school system and know that she is always available.

“The last few years were hard,” she said of dealing with COVID-19. “So, I just hope to get people really excited about Opelika High School and Opelika City Schools.”

Fischer and her husband Jonathan have two children: Davis, 4, who is starting kindergarten, and Charlotte, 3.

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