Elk Grove School Trustee Chet Madison Sr. 

Chet Madison Sr. originally wanted to be a teacher.

The Vietnam War veteran and San Francisco State University graduate instead worked in the shipping business for more than 30 years.

He became active in the Elk Grove Unified School District when his children attended its schools, and his wife, Sarah worked as a school secretary in that district. His daughter was classmates with future district superintendent, Christopher Hoffman, at Valley High School.

“He had leadership potential then, you could tell it,” Madison said about Hoffman.

Madison credited Sarah as well as the leadership of district superintendents Bob Trigg and Dave Gordon for motivating him to run for the Elk Grove school board in 2000.

“It’s kind of funny how things work and come back around,” he said about returning to his early desire to work in education.

Madison is leaving the school board’s Trustee Area 3 seat next month after representing Sacramento’s Valley Hi and North Laguna communities for 20 years.

He decided to not run for reelection in this November’s Trustee Area 3 race. Candidate Sean Yang is currently leading that race with 45% of the vote, but he will not declare victory until all of the votes are counted.

Madison told the Citizen about his advice for his successor on the school board.

“‘Be quiet and learn during the first year, and see what’s really going on,” he said. “There is so much that a board member has to learn.”

Madison’s 20 years on the school board included the opening of five schools in one year, employee union protests over budget cuts and layoffs after a recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted the district to teach more than 63,000 students online this year.

He joined the school board during a time when the district’s student enrollment was booming along with Elk Grove’s city population. Schools were overcrowded and the district was pressured to buy land for future campuses.

“We just could not build schools fast enough, and we got a lot of heat on that,” Madison recalled.

He mentioned the controversy over the 2005 construction of Pleasant Grove High School near the corner of Bond and Bradshaw roads in a rural area where neighbors feared school traffic congestion.

“We spent a lot of time in trying to develop a good (traffic) system for the eighth high school; it’s a jewel now,” Madison said. “I think that the community accepted that.”

In looking back, he said that he enjoyed working with four district superintendents and his colleagues on the school board.

“I always looked at it as all seven of us working toward a common goal,” the trustee said.

Along with meeting challenges, Madison said that he made sure to visit classrooms in campuses across the 330-square mile school district.

“It was a joy to visit the classrooms and engage with the kids,” he said. “That’s what it was really about – to see the action and see what’s going on in classrooms.”

After he leaves the school board, Madison plans to stay active in education by working in the Elk Grove Community Scholarship Foundation to provide scholarships to local students. He’s also involved with Improve Your Tomorrow, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that assists more than 1,000 middle and high school students of color.

“I’ll still be involved with the educational process of young people,” he said.

Madison then noted that he’ll no longer have to participate in school board meetings that stretch late into the night.

“I won’t miss staying up to 10 or 11 ‘o clock at night,” he said.

School board bids farewell to Madison

Madison’s colleagues on the Elk Grove school board bid farewell to him during their Nov. 17 meeting.

“When I first became a member of this board, Chet and I were not on the same page, and in a short time we became friends,” Trustee Carmine Forcina said.

Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen cited Madison as a mentor when she was appointed to the school board.

“You were a constant voice of reason through hard economic times to the best of times,” she said.

Trustee Tony Perez wondered why a local school hasn’t been named after Madison yet, and he joked that Valley High should be renamed after him.

Board President Beth Albiani read her favorite poem, “Success” by Ralph Waldo Emerson during her tribute to Madison.

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,” she read. “This is to have succeeded.”

Hoffman, who knew the retiring trustee since he was a Valley High student, thanked Madison for his work.

“Mr. Madison has literally seen some of the best of times in the history of the school district, and he’s also been a part of the most challenging times,” the superintendent said. “Through all of that, he’s carried himself with distinction and always put the students and staff first.”

Hoffman held up a sign that read, “Every day is a weekend” when he told Madison to enjoy his retirement.

During his response to the board’s accolades, Madison noted that he was leaving the school board during an unprecedented time when they regularly have online meetings, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I never thought I would end my last year in office here on Zoom meetings, and dealing with a pandemic,” he told the school board. “I never envisioned that would be there.”

“There are times when I feel I need to stay and get through this pandemic, and help the board. On the other hand, I felt that we got the right people that are working hard. The current board and the staff, and the people out in the field are working toward a common goal on that.”

Along with Madison, Singh-Allen is also leaving the school board next month. She was elected mayor of Elk Grove in the November election after serving as an Elk Grove school trustee for eight years. Singh-Allen will be honored at the school board’s Dec. 9 meeting.