By Kate Larkin
In 1993, Farrell Seymore moved from Cullman, Ala. to Auburn to enroll in Auburn University. At the end of his senior year, he attended Interview Day for education graduates, where he met Dr. Mark Neighbors, then principal at Opelika Middle School. One interview later, Seymore was hired to teach science at OMS.
Over the next 25 years, he moved from the classroom to administration, becoming an assistant principal of Opelika Middle School in 2002 and principal in 2007. In 2011, he moved to Opelika High School to serve as principal there. Along the way, he earned two more degrees from Auburn, a Master of Education in 2001 and a PhD in 2011. Then, on June 1, 2022, Seymore reached the pinnacle of his career in Opelika when the Opelika City Schools Board of Education named him superintendent, only the ninth superintendent to serve since the system was established in 1910.
“I could tell from my first interview back in 1997 that Opelika focused not only on education, but on quality instruction and doing things the right way,” says Seymore. “I interviewed with a couple more schools, but I could tell Opelika was different. It just felt right.”
Seymore says his first impression was spot on and after his first year of teaching, he knew Opelika was a place where he could grow both professionally and personally.
“I knew I wanted to settle down here and one day raise a family,” says Seymore. It didn’t take me long to realize that this system and the Opelika community value education at a very high level. Back then, I saw that from the teacher side of things, but now as a parent, I see it even more. Academics is definitely the cornerstone, but other areas are valued as well, such as the arts and athletics. It’s the well roundedness of the whole city, the whole community and, of course, the school system that has always been so very appealing.”
A lot has changed since Seymore set up his first classroom. Technology throughout the system (and the world) and programs system- wide, but most notably at Opelika High School where Seymore and his staff were instrumental in implementing new initiatives. Increased dual enrollment, a multitude of career tech options and a theatre program that is second to none are just a few of the many offerings at OHS. One of most effective resources Seymore is especially proud of is the academic opportunity program where every teacher and administrator at OHS has an advisory group of students that meet on a regular basis.
“The groups focus on character education, grades, attendance – all the things that help a student succeed,” says Seymore. “Each student is accountable to a specific adult in the building who they can talk to, work with and be mentored by. This program has fostered so many strong, positive relationships.”
The mentorship program was already firmly established before the pandemic, but it took on a whole new role at a time when students were out of the school and when many were isolated.
“We already had a mechanism in place, so the transition from face-to-face meetings to telephone calls was relatively seamless for us; the relationships had already been built,” says Seymore. “Each week, teachers would call and check on their students and their families, just to ask how they were doing and what needs they might have.”
Partnerships with Auburn University, the University of Alabama, Auburn University – Montgomery and a longstanding relationship with Southern Union State Community College give students the opportunity to dual enroll, earning both high school and college credits with the same course. Southern Union has also been instrumental in Opelika High School’s career technical offerings in engineering, robotics, healthcare, information technology, television and video production, culinary, horticulture, childcare and several other areas.
“We want every graduate of the Opelika City Schools system to be prepared for whatever they choose to pursue, whether it’s a degree from a higher education institution, a career tech path – or both,” says Seymore. “We strive to give each and every student a well-rounded experience and all the tools necessary to be competitive in a global economy. With the help of the surrounding colleges, local industries, teachers and families all working together, I think we’ve done a great job of reaching that goal and helping our students reach theirs.”
As superintendent, one of Seymore’s first large projects will be the construction of the new Fox Run School, scheduled to open in fall 2023. The school will house approximately 500 sixth graders, alleviating overcrowding at Opelika Middle School.
“It’s going to be a beautiful school and will be a great place for establishing a strong community of learners who will feed into Opelika Middle School and ultimately into Opelika High School,” Seymore said.
With all the City of Opelika and Opelika City Schools has to offer, Seymore strongly urges those considering a move to the area or newcomers to the community to take a tour of the school system.
“I encourage all prospective families to come and tour our schools at whatever level their children will be entering,” he says. “You will find a high level of commitment to learning and valuing each and every student. Visit the schools, talk to the teachers, the students, school principals and parents of children. Learn and see for yourself all the many offerings we have now as well as what we are working on offering in the future. We are a forward-thinking school system with a goal to meet the needs of the learner today, but also what the learner may need in a few years, after graduation and even beyond that. We want our students to be prepared for whatever career they choose.”
When Seymore stepped into his middle school science classroom as a new college graduate a quarter of a century ago, he could never have known he would spend his entire career in the same system.
“As impressed as I was with Opelika schools, I definitely wasn’t thinking at that point that I would have the opportunity to stay in the same system for the next 25 years,” he says. “To have the opportunity to actually do that, to be able to succeed both professionally and personally and now to serve as superintendent has been such an immense blessing to me and my family. I am forever grateful.”
Photos by Lauren Beesley Photography