Christopher Hoffman, superintendent of the Elk Grove Unified School District.

On March 7, Christopher Hoffman made a controversial announcement that quickly affected the families of 63,000 students across the Elk Grove Unified School District.

After his staff heard a report that a few students were exposed to relatives who tested positive for COVID-19, the superintendent’s office ordered the closure of all 67 campuses as well as the cancelation of student activities in the district.   

Students were told to stay home and begin an early Spring Break vacation, while district officials and Sacramento County public health officials determined if it was safe enough for students to return to school.

Elk Grove Unified was one of California’s earliest public school districts to close its campuses in respond to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hoffman’s decision drew publicized protests from parents of players in Sheldon High School’s boys basketball team that was in the playoffs.

On March 13, the Elk Grove school board voted to extend the campus closures to mid-April.

“We are going to need your patience,” Hoffman said at the board’s emergency meeting that day. “There are a thousand decisions that need to be made, and we will make every decision with our people in mind.”

Elk Grove Unified’s campus closures were soon no longer anomalies. Like most K-12 students across California that year, Elk Grove Unified’s students would continue to stay away from their schools and instead take online classes while COVID-19 cases fluctuated throughout 2020.

Hoffman is the Citizen’s Newsmaker of the Year since nobody else made a greater impact on the Elk Grove community than him in 2020.  

The Valley High School graduate and former Laguna Creek High School vice principal became Elk Grove Unified’s superintendent in 2014.

(This) is really an opportunity to give back to the community that has done so much for me,” he said about Valley High during the district’s 2014 ceremony to welcome him as superintendent. “It was my experience here where I decided I would go into education.”

Hoffman faced the toughest year of his leadership career in 2020 when he led a 330-square-mile district during the pandemic.

That spring, the district had the daunting task of quickly adapting to an uncertain state budget plan, while also crafting a plan to switch tens of thousands of students to online classes. Such forms of “distance learning” remain controversial and challenging for many students and parents during the current school year.

Plans for safely reopening campuses for in-person learning that fall were soon postponed after rises in COVID-19 cases were reported in Sacramento County. As 2021 begins, questions remain on whether it will be deemed safe enough for students and teachers to return to school this spring and beyond. The recession’s impact on California’s public education spending plans will also be revealed this month when Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes his state budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Hoffman, along with the district administration, school board and teachers, will continue navigating the rough waters ahead for Elk Grove Unified.

 “This is what a leader looks like,” then-Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen said while pointing at him during the school board’s March 13 meeting. “Leadership is never easy, you are always second-guessed with those Monday Morning Quarterbacking of ‘I would have done this’…Well, you know what? He did the right thing.”