Tuesday: Will Woodside Elementary retain Sellman name for its new auditorium?

School board considers name of new building

The board of the one-school Woodside Elementary School District isn't used to seeing many people in the audience at its monthly meetings.

Last month, however, the item wasn't even on the agenda and yet two dozen people showed up to protest the possibility that "Sellman" might be dropped from the name of the school's new theater/gymnasium.

This month, however, the matter of naming the new building is on the agenda of the Tuesday, Feb. 9, school board meeting, which starts at 3:30 p.m. The "Multi-purpose Room Naming Discussion" is scheduled for 4:45 p.m.

The "Multi-purpose Room" under discussion is a nearly-completed building that replaces Sellman Auditorium, a multi-purpose auditorium and gymnasium 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.

George Sellman, who was a teacher or superintendent in the district for 37 years, is best known for his contributions to the school's long tradition of having eighth-graders put on operettas, and to Woodside's community theater productions. He 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. That building was torn down in June 2015.

The public turnout may be even larger this month than at January's meeting. A Facebook page devoted to the "Sellman Auditorium Board Meeting" invited 132 people to attend the meeting and drew comments like this one from retired Woodside Elementary teacher Linda McCahon:

"I am shocked and appalled that the present day board and administration are even considering (changing) the name," Ms. McCahon, a longtime Woodside resident wrote. "George Sellman was the beginning and the heart of community productions in Woodside. He was a quiet, humble and unassuming person who worked hard his whole life for the betterment of Woodside Elementary School."

Ms. McCahon said that when Mr. Sellman retired, the school and the community pitched in to give him a trip to New York with wife Joanne so they could take in some Broadway plays. "Everyone knew that theater was his passion and naming the auditorium after him was done out of love and respect for him," she wrote.

Construction of the new multi-purpose auditorium and gymnasium, complete with a permanent stage, is expected to be completed by April 1, in time for this year's eighth-graders to begin practicing their operetta.

In the old building, the annual operettas were performed on a portable stage set up over one end of the basketball court, with the seating in folding chairs.

A Jan. 12 email to district parents from Superintendent Beth Polito explained why the district is considering renaming 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."

The list of possible names that have been put forth included in the board's packet, however, contains mostly variations on Sellman plus a number of suggestions including Wildcat, the school's mascot. The entire list, with misspellings intact is : Sellman, Wildcat Center, Sellman Pavilion, Wildcats Auditorium, Pavilion, Selman Stage, Sellman Lobby, Sellman Lobby, Sellman Too, Pawprint Auditorium, Sellman 2, Pawvillion, Sellman 2.0, Zellman, Sellman Pawvillion, Wildcat Court, Wildcat Room, Wildcat Pavilillion, Cell Man and M.P.C.R.

The board packet also contains a letter from Lorrie Goben, a 27-year resident of Woodside, former school secretary and administrative assistant to the superintendent, and parent of two Woodside School alumni who now lives in Camino, California.

She described Mr. Sellman's 1973 spring musical, "Kiss Me Kate":

"Like all of Mr. Sellman's musicals, that one had a cast of hundreds -- school teachers and custodians, the church pastor and the church choir, horse people and housewives, old and young, Woodsiders across the board -- anyone willing to try to sing or dance or paint scenery or build sets or sew costumes or sell tickets. The entire community was joyfully involved in the productions," Ms. Goben wrote.

"George Sellman's musicals were one of the lovely traditions that helped make Woodside a charming town and a great place to live and raise a family," she wrote.

Also on the agenda is a new bell schedule that would eliminate the afternoon recess "providing more instructional time," the report from middle school principal Steve Frank says. Like the current bell schedule, this one does not provide a passing period between classes for any of the students, including middle schoolers who move from one classroom to another: a new class starts at the same time the previous class ends.

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