Not many students can say their principal knows how to drive a tank, but Fair Oaks Elementary School students can. Before Cathie Seibert was a principal or teacher, she signed up to serve her country in the U.S. Army. During her years as a U.S. Army soldier, Principal Seibert learned to drive tanks and armored personnel carriers and rappel down a mountain headfirst.
When the Cobb educator joined the U.S. Army, many of the parents of her current students had not even been born yet. After the future educator completed basic training, she deployed to Korea.
“I was one of the first females on the DMZ then, and it was a fabulous opportunity for me. I joined the military so that I could have an opportunity to go to college later,” the U.S. Army veteran shared.
Beyond learning to drive a tank, Principal Seibert has a favorite memory from her time in Korea.
“My favorite thing about Korea was when I went to Australian-style rappel school, where they teach you to go headfirst. That was probably the start of me being an adventure junkie because now, I love to do a lot of adventures,” Principal Seibert added.
While serving with the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, she met her husband, who was serving in the U.S. Air Force. After stepping away from her role as a soldier, Principal Seibert continued her service as a military wife and an educator. (Her son, who graduated from Campbell High School, attended the U.S. Naval Academy and is now following in his parents’ footsteps and serving his country.)
Since 2021, Principal Seibert has led Fair Oaks Elementary School, a school coincidently that originally supported military children from Dobbins Air Force Base decades ago.
Principal Seibert’s ability to drive a tank is no secret to her students.
“When we talk about patriotism at the beginning of the year, I share stories with the kids because, to me, it connects with the purpose of why we do the flag every day in American schools,” Principal Seibert shared. “When I was in Korea, one of my favorite memories was coming off of the deployment and a lady wrapping the American flag on me and saying, ‘Thank you.’ I will always remember that moment forever. That’s a moment where you can understand the freedoms that we have when you’re there, and you get to experience freedom for somebody else. It’s pretty powerful what the flag stands for across the entire globe.”
This is the military veteran’s 17th year serving Cobb students. She first started helping students at HAVEN Academy. Before becoming principal, she supported students at Birney Elementary School and Griffin Middle School.
“My background is as an exceptional education teacher. That’s my background and my absolute, absolute passion. I love special needs because I love to see kids grow and develop, and I love to work with kids who struggle with maybe a little bit of dysregulation, and they need that extra support from their teachers to get them to a new level. They deserve a very high-quality education,” the dedicated educator said.
For Principal Seibert, transitioning from being a soldier to an educator was not difficult. For her, the foundation is the same—service.
“Everything we do in the school setting, you get to serve our community. So, it’s just another way for us to give back, to serve our community, and to support everybody around us because that’s what we stand for in public education,” explained Principal Seibert.
Some of Principal Seibert’s favorite moments as an educator happen outside the classroom. Last year, Fair Oaks fifth graders were able to stay overnight at the Georgia Aquarium thanks to fundraising efforts. It was a priceless experience for the Fair Oaks principal, getting up at 2:00 a.m. and seeing the students looking up at the fish with such joy.
“There were many, many times where I spent some time quietly just sobbing at how beautiful of a moment that was, to be able to take kids and allow them to experience something that very few people get to do, which is stay overnight at the aquarium. It was definitely a highlight of my career.”
Whether as a soldier or educator, Principal Seibert has lived a life of service to others.
While serving as an assistant principal at Griffin, she learned of a local community member, a stranger, who needed a liver. So, the Cobb educator underwent the long process required to become a live liver donor. Thanks to Principal Seibert, the recipient, a local doctor, is healthy and able to support Cobb students and the Fair Oaks community.
“There’s a lot of background testing that’s done. So, it’s a very complicated process to do, but I was very honored to be able to do it because now you have somebody that you didn’t even know crossed your path, and what a beautiful blessing for both of us,” Principal Seibert explained. “I’m the one that was very fortunate in that experience.”
Until she went through the liver donation process, she did not realize how many people were on the transplant list, especially in metro Atlanta. So, on top of leading Fair Oaks, Principal Seibert now helps raise awareness about the need for live donors.
“I’m a kind of a mentor for people who are going through, or they’re thinking about making a live liver donation. I am one of the contacts they can talk to and just kind of [learn about] the process, what was the recovery, so that they can have an opportunity to talk to somebody who’s actually been through it,” explained the Cobb educator.
Back at Fair Oaks, the U.S. Army veteran looks for ways to support her students and their families.
For example, if her students need new shoes, Fair Oaks has a shoe closet. Thanks to community partners, Fair Oaks provides families with other needs like diapers and formula. Principal Seibert also helps volunteer at the Pearson Middle School Fresh Market across the street, which supports school families.
“I love being in the schools because it’s another way to serve the community,” Principal Seibert said. “I love serving our community, and I think being in the public schools is just another way to saturate the community and serve and support.”