Robert Cotto, Jr., a member of the Hartford Board of Education and until recently a senior fellow at the New Haven-based advocacy group, Connecticut Voices for Children, has been named Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity, effective April 17.
At Connecticut Voices for Children, Cotto was the lead researcher and liaison for K-12 education policy. As Director of Urban Educational Initiatives, Cotto will help Trinity maximize its partnerships with K-12 schools in Greater Hartford. He will be empowered to develop new partnerships, invigorating and strengthening educational opportunities for thousands of schoolchildren, and work toward the goal of improving educational outcomes and lowering barriers to college.
Cotto’s appointment was made possible by a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. After the grant period, Trinity will sustain the position through institutional resources and new philanthropic investments.
In a recent interview, Cotto said he anticipates working closely with the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA), partnering with the College’s Community Learning Initiative (CLI) to maximize Trinity students’ experiential learning, and strengthening ties with the neighborhoods, its leaders and with policy-makers so that everyone is pulling in the same direction and striving to meet the same objectives.
“I think it’s important to bring all of these people and initiatives under one roof and to connect people,” said Cotto, whose job at Connecticut Voices for Children saw him working with educational foundations and grass-roots and labor organizations on policy and research. He also collaborated with multiple partners and legislators to support and achieve modifications to K-12 education law.
Melanie Stein, the associate academic dean who led the search to fill the new job, praised Cotto for his “impressive set of skills…; his scholarly work on policy issues in K-12 education, his experience as a teacher at a Greater Hartford area magnet school, and his knowledge of the Greater Hartford K-12 public school system.”
She called him “an ideal choice,” noting that, “he will be teaching a new course in the Educational Studies program, in addition to working to strengthen the College’s educational partnerships and ties with local schools and communities.”
Cotto has been a member of the Hartford school board since January 2010. Prior to his joining CT Voices for Children, Cotto was a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Learning Center run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), an inter-district magnet school created to provide a high-quality education and meet racial and ethnic integration goals in the Hartford area, and the lead instructor at the Saint Joseph/CREC Summer Institute at Saint Joseph College (now the University of Saint Joseph). Once his fellowship at CT Voices concluded, Cotto became a lecturer at Central Connecticut State University. Before earning his certification as a teacher, Cotto trained in public and private schools in New York City; San Francisco; and Cambridge, MA.
A native of the greater-Hartford area, he earned his A.B. in sociology from Dartmouth College, his master’s degree in American studies from Trinity, and his Ed.M. in teaching and learning from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Cotto said one of his goals will be to enrich opportunities for students both at Trinity and in the community. Regarding HMTCA, he said the key thing will be to build off of the foundation that has already been established and to make it “a more robust and rich relationship.”
“My challenge will be to fill in the gaps, to talk to the students, to guide them and to help them explore their post-secondary options,” he said.
In terms of CLI, Cotto said he intends to work closely with Carlos Espinosa, who was recently charged with administrative oversight of that program, and to strengthen the shared sense of community.
“Students at other colleges don’t have the same access as our students do to a mid-sized city and all of the different institutions that are out there,” he said. “We need to connect the classroom with experiential learning and keep building on it.”
Cotto also sees his role as making Greater Hartford leaders and residents aware of the programs and initiatives that are helping to enrich the K-12 educational system.
“Certainly with the arrival of a new president [Joanne Berger-Sweeney], we have an opportunity and a challenge to raise the visibility and profile of Trinity College and of the work that’s already being done in the community.”
Cotto is the first in his family (originally from Puerto Rico and Peru) to graduate with a college degree. He lives with his wife, Viana, in the Forster Heights neighborhood in the southwest section of Hartford.