Community Change Expert Helps Newtown through School Massacre Aftermath

Community Change Expert Helps Newtown through School Massacre AftermathThe Unanimous Recommendation: Raze and Rebuild Sandy Hook Elementary May 14, Newtown, Conn. – Since the Dec. 14 shooting in which a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the community had to face the painful decision of what to do with the school: renovate it, rebuild it on the same site or start entirely fresh on a new property?

To grapple with that undertaking, a specially created 28-person task force brought in Rich Harwood, an expert in helping communities deal with difficult changes. Rich, founder and president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, has spent 25 years teaching people, organizations and cities large and small how to work together to solve pressing challenges.

Rich set up a series of meetings with the task force and the community that began in April and convened for the next several Friday nights. Rich moderated the meetings, ensuring the process was methodical, transparent and left ample room for conversation. He listened attentively as parents of Sandy Hook first-graders, business people, a high school student and others stepped forward to express gut-wrenching concerns about whether to return to the current school site, what it would take to deal with lasting effects of trauma on children, and how to bring about stability in the community.

Time and again, Rich was struck by the overwhelming sense of compassion people demonstrated toward each other. Having served as a catalyst for change in thousands of communities from Battle Creek, Mich. to Youngstown, Ohio and Las Vegas, Nev., Newtown stood out as an inspiration for those seeking profound and real change.

And, with Rich’s guidance, the community of Newtown coalesced and made its choice on Friday (May 10): The task force voted unanimously to recommend to raze the school and rebuild it on the same site. The school board is scheduled to consider that decision, which will be followed by a town referendum.

In the meantime, Rich is available to speak about how the people of Newtown have been dealing with the trauma Newtown has experienced, and how to make sense of all that’s happened since Dec. 14. He can be reached at rharwood@theharwoodinstitute.org or 301-656-3669 (office).