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Scoop: Ed Board chair Barbara Cottam is going to work for Raimondo

Barbara Cottam, chairwoman of the Rhode Island Board of Education.WJAR Screenshot

Barbara Cottam, who has chaired the state Board of Education for more than seven years, is stepping down next week to take a job working for US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

In a resignation letter sent to Governor Dan McKee dated Sept. 28, Cottam wrote that she’ll be a senior advisor for external affairs strategy for the commerce department’s “Internet for All” initiative, a multibillion-dollar program designed to expand broadband.

The R.I. education board that she heads now oversees both public K-12 and postsecondary education at Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island. Cottam said accomplishments during her tenure included support for implementing a high quality standardized curriculum in every school district, the expansion of public pre-kindergarten, historic levels of school construction funding, and the Rhode Island Promise free college program at CCRI.

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Cottam also supported the state takeover of Providence schools, although she acknowledged that the pandemic has set those turnaround efforts back. She wrote that Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green is changing the state department of education “from a compliant, process-driven, regulatory agency to one of support, sharing best practices among districts and enabling them to be more successful.”

”There is no reason why we can’t provide one of the best educational systems in the country,” Cottam wrote. “It requires backbone and everyone working together to stay the course to achieve the same goals. It means keeping students at the center of every conversation and action.”

Cottam came up in politics working for former Providence mayor Joe Paolino and then-governor Bruce Sundlun in the early 1990s. She joined Citizens Bank in 1994, rising to executive vice president. When Raimondo was governor, Cottam was frequently rumored to be joining her staff, but she remained at the bank while chairing the Board of Education.

Cottam’s departure comes at a significant moment for public education in Rhode Island. The state still needs to right the ship on the Providence takeover while not appearing as though it is ignoring the other districts in the state. Rhode Island College is also searching for a new president.

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This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.