Keep Sellman as name of school auditorium, crowd urges Woodside school board

Decision on name will be made in February

Two dozen people showed up at a Woodside Elementary School District governing board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14, with a clear message to board members: Preserve the name on the building the school uses to stage its eighth-grade operettas in honor of the man who directed them for nearly four decades, George Sellman.

Mr. Sellman's daughter, Jennifer Sellman Anderson, drove from her home in Glen Ellen, in Sonoma County, to read a letter to the board.

"I am here today to ask that the memory of my father and what he contributed to this community for over two generations continue to be honored by his name remaining on the school auditorium," Ms. Sellman Anderson said.

Construction of a new multi-purpose auditorium and gymnasium, complete with a theater, is now underway and expected to be completed by April 1, in time for this year's eighth graders to begin practicing their operetta. At a December school board meeting, finding a new name for the new building was brought up as part of a report on the construction.

The previous multi-purpose auditorium and gymnasium, named after longtime district superintendent and Woodside resident George Sellman, and used by generations of Woodside students for everything from their eighth grade operettas to basketball games and cotillion classes, pumpkin carving contests and science fairs, was torn down in June 2015.

A Jan. 12 email to district parents from Superintendent Beth Polito confirmed the district is considering a new name for the building.

"Community members have provided input that, as the new building is a true multi-purpose room utilized by the entire school for a wide variety of activities, a name reflecting that diverse use might be appropriate," the superintendent said in the email.

"A variety of building names have been suggested and the Board will hear ideas from students in the near future prior to making a final decision about the name," she wrote.

She said the "possible name change is not based on a donor request nor any donor name."

"George Sellman played a significant role in the Woodside community for many years as a Superintendent/Principal as well as director of operettas and community productions," the superintendent's email said. "As such, the district will continue to honor Mr. Sellman's dedication to the school and to the community by naming either the lobby and/or the performance stage of the new building after him."

While the email made it sound as if retaining the Sellman name for the auditorium itself had already been ruled out, Superintendent Polito later clarified what she had written. "No decision has been made, including keeping the name Sellman," she said in response to a question from the Almanac.

Many of the speakers at the Jan. 14 board meeting, most of them alumni of the school, seemed to be on the verge of tears as they spoke of Mr. Sellman, who was a teacher or superintendent in the district for 37 years, but is best remembered for his contributions to the school's annual eighth-grade operettas and to Woodside's community theater productions.

Mr. Sellman died in 2005 at the age of 81, a few years after the original Sellman Auditorium was rededicated in his honor following a $1.5 million renovation.

Grant Finlayson, whose elderly parents were also in the audience, spoke about Mr. Sellman and his lasting impact on him and his five siblings who attended Woodside School.

"We live in a time where everything's about the present," he said. "It's texts and screaming video and kind of epitomized by Snapchat," he said. That makes it all the more important to honor history, he said. "If we remember the good things that went before ... that matters," he said.

"I apologize for getting emotional," Mr. Finlayson said, his voice quavering. "We need to remember and continue to honor Mr. Sellman."

Robert Hooper, chair of the school's bond oversight committee, wanted to make sure the board knew that members of the committee who had spoken in favor of a name change at a December board meeting had not spoken on behalf of the entire committee.

One of the committee members had brought the idea of a new name for the auditorium to the committee as an informational item only, he said. "There was never any formal action taken by our committee," Mr. Hooper said, adding that the committee's responsibility is to review the spending of bond money.

Former Woodside Elementary governing board member Elianne Frenkel-Popell presented the board with a collection of comments made on social media after it was reported that the school might name the new building something other than Sellman. "At 50, I quit counting," she said as she provided the board with 12 pages of comments.

"These comments -- they're really angry," she said. "I know you guys -- but these people don't," she said to the board members.

Ms. Frenkel-Popell said she had actually hoped the district might drop the idea of not continuing to use the Sellman name before Mr. Sellman's family found out about it.

Jim Degnan, the father and grandfather of Woodside School graduates and active in community theater, talked about working with Mr. Sellman. "It was a wonderful time and George was such a wonderful person" who "did so much for the community," Mr. Degnan said.

"George put so much of his life into (the community theater productions), just to raise money for the school and the community," Mr. Degnan said.

Scott Michaelsen -- who graduated from Woodside Elementary in 1972, whose son and daughter graduated from the school, and whose wife choreographed many theater productions that took place in Sellman Auditorium -- said: "I think what's interesting to see is the multi-generational response that you're getting."

"I don't know the reasons why you want to change the name," he said, but "George Sellman and the operetta need to live on."

Lehua Greenman, a local real estate professional who moved to Woodside in 1972, said one of the reasons her family moved to Woodside was "the history and the character," as epitomized by Mr. Sellman.

As a PTA president while her two children attended Woodside School, Ms. Greenman said she worked closely with Mr. Sellman.

"George Sellman is a legend in Woodside," she said, and not only because of the theater. "It was the feeling of community and the feeling of appreciation and love for children," she said.

The matter was not on the agenda at the Jan. 14 board meeting, but board president Wendy Warren Roth said it will be discussed at the Feb. 9 meeting.

One of the audience members warned that the board might need a bigger room for that meeting. "This gathering was organized this morning," he said.

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27 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 15, 2016 at 12:34 pm

pogo is a registered user.

I'm not sure why the Superintendent and board feel they have to re-write history to cover their butts. Just 'fess up - you blew it. It's not a sin to apologize and move on.

It's clear that the board made a foolish and poorly considered decision. They should have said "it's become clear that our community feels strongly about the legacy of Mr. Sellman. We will honor their wishes and the building will continue to carry his name."

Case closed.

14 people like this
Posted by woodsider
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jan 15, 2016 at 1:20 pm

What's missing in this story is why there was even a proposal for the name change? Was there a (big) new donation that warranted the name change? Someone just not like the name Sellman? This article tells an incomplete story...

12 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2016 at 1:21 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@POGO: No, it is not a sin. The Superintendent and the school board have sinned several times. Perhaps the Superintendent should be replaced as well as some of the school board????? Just a thought.

8 people like this
Posted by 40-year Resident
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jan 15, 2016 at 3:25 pm

>> district would be naming either the building's lobby or its stage after Mr. Sellman

Recommend to flip this and keep the building named for beloved George Sellman, then name the lobby or stage for a new donor or honoree (if that is the undeclared intention).

>> a name reflecting that diverse use might be appropriate

We Woodside old-timers all knew and loved George, and there was very strong community support for naming the "new" major building for him when it was constructed. He epitomized the generalist "diversified" schoolmaster of yore -- teacher/administrator/friend and advocate that is rarely matched today.

George's name on the building reminds of: "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice" = if you seek his monument, look around — epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren on St. Paul's, London, of which he was architect. Woodside School as we know it today is/was indeed a monument to George Selman's four-decade legacy.

10 people like this
Posted by WES_Alum_Parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 16, 2016 at 4:36 am

One thing that is missing from all of these terrific posts in support of keeping "Sellman" named "Sellman," is all of the years and years and years of students who have now had all of their assemblies, Cotillion classes, dances and operettas in "Sellman." For those of us lucky to know George Sellman personally it may mean something even more, but please do not undervalue the importance to all of the students now and since its original naming. All of this transcends any passing fancy of these short-time administrations who only come through Woodside for a fleeting moment. Let history stand.

9 people like this
Posted by 50 year Woodside Resident and WES alumni
a resident of Woodside School
on Jan 16, 2016 at 9:41 am

Interesting to note that of the 25 or so people who showed up, not one was in favor of a name change.

3 people like this
Posted by Kite Hill
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jan 16, 2016 at 11:02 am

Let the next mega donor have a new school wing named after them and leave the multi-purpose room to George. Don't let Woodside's history be dictated by a few who made their millions on the present.

1 person likes this
Posted by Richard Vaughan
a resident of Woodside School
on Jan 17, 2016 at 5:44 pm

For an action such as this to occur, there needs to be a vote by the school board. The next board meeting is Feb. 9. There is a time at the start of every meeting for public comment. If the community truly cares about this, they should show up and make their voices known.

2 people like this
Posted by Another Rez
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 17, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Another Rez is a registered user.

Fyi: The next meeting, on Tues., Feb. 9th, will be @3:30 in Room 39 at Woodside School.

How can I provide input into board decisions?
Attend the school board meetings. At the start of every meeting there is an open forum where you can address the board on any topic that is not on the agenda.
If a topic is on the agenda, the board always allocates time for public comment when that item is addressed.

You can also email the Board at:

Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer Sellman Anderson
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2016 at 7:56 am

Hello to All,

Thank you for all of your comments. I'm not sure why it is even being discussed, but it is.

The topic is officially on the agenda for the February 9 board meeting. As someone stated above, the meetings usually start at 3:30. The agenda is usually posted a few days prior to the meeting.

If you can attend, please do!. The more people there the more powerful the message!

Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer Sellman Anderson
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 29, 2016 at 1:45 pm

I wanted to remind everyone that has supported my father's name to remain on "The George Sellman" Auditorium that there is a board meeting coming up on Tuesday February 9th. The discussion regarding the auditorium name is on the agenda.

Please attend if you can!

Thank you so much!

5 people like this
Posted by Desi Gagianas Evangel
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2016 at 4:06 pm

As a former music teacher at Woodside Elementary School (1965 to 1982), I would like to state that I am dismayed that some members of the school board wish to consider changing the name of the Sellman Auditorium.

I had the pleasure to work with George for countless hours, days and months on the top-quality eighth grade operettas and community theatrical productions. George’s dedication, professionalism and community spirit were an inspiration to all.

I would ask the board to please not ignore Woodside’s warm and embracing sense of community and rich history. Continue to honor Mr. George Sellman and all he has done for this fine town and school by keeping his name on the new auditorium.

Desi Gagianas Evangel
Former music teacher at Woodside Elementary

Like this comment
Posted by Denise Terry
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 10, 2016 at 11:41 am

I am so pleased to hear that the newly rebuilt auditorium will retain its historical name "Sellman" in keeping with the tradition to honor Mr. Sellman. What I feel is missing in this age of social media and lack of "oral history" from generation to generation of Woodside families is an online record of Woodside's School traditions and historic legacy, as told briefly by you parents from decades ago.

We new Woodside parents (like myself, with elementary schoolers) do not have the benefit of knowing you, hearing your stories, and understanding the importance of these legacies.

I encourage you to record them via video so they can be shared for the benefit of all students, parents, teachers, current and future administrators.... Take an iPhone selfie video, post it online on the school website, maybe we should create a Woodside School informal Facebook group page where this information can be shared openly.

It is one thing to deliberately want to erase history because one does not honor or appreciate it (I don't think that was necessarily the intention of the rename, but I wasn't there?). It's quite another thing to just be ignorant of why decisions were made, or names assigned to honor someone, out of ignorance because there was no online record of why.

Let's make it simple for everyone moving forward to not make that mistake. I encourage legacy parents to help preserve that history and share it with the new parents coming after you!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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