Sunday, March 17, 2013 | 2:02 a.m.
In a world that has seen a dearth of positives over the past five years, I think the signs this past week around the world and here at home give us reason for hope.
Let’s first consider two high-profile resignations lately that shook up the lives of more than 1.2 billion people globally and 2 million people locally.
The first was the virtually unprecedented retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the second was the untimely resignation of Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones. In both and, more importantly, in the exercise of leadership shown in the face of those departures, we should see some reasons to believe that tomorrow could bring better days.
First, of course, is Pope Francis who, until his election this past week, was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina. Not only do I instantly like him because he is a Jesuit but, according to my dear friend Alex Yemenidjian, who had dinner with him long before he became pope, he exhibited the same kind of humility that is being heralded as a major consideration for his election as the Catholic Church’s leader.
Time will tell whether Pope Francis’ lifelong concern for the “least among us” and for the everyman in society will continue, but if his early days on the job are any indication, it appears the Catholic Church should be in solid and secure hands at a time when it could really use some humility and spiritual guidance.
I am also heartened by his selection because he has exhibited a long and deeply held commitment to better relations with the Jewish people around the world. His close ties to the Jewish community in Argentina have been a sign of personal courage as well as his adherence to the findings of the Second Vatican Council. Both have given many of us hope that relations will only get better, which is a good sign at a time when religious leadership requires the kind of moral guidance that must overcome the temptations of more worldly and less heavenly considerations.
Two recent signs of these attributes happened this past week, after his election. First, Pope Francis reached out immediately to the chief rabbi of the Rome’s Jewish community, Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni.
As reported in jewishjournal.com, the Pope wrote, “I strongly hope to be able to contribute to the progress that the relations between Jews and Catholics have known since the Second Vatican Council in a spirit of renewed collaboration and in the service of a world that can always be in more harmony with the will of the Creator.”
The next thing Pope Francis did was drive over to the small hotel where he was staying to collect his luggage and pay his hotel bill, personally, after which he shook hands with and thanked every person who worked in that hotel.
It took leadership, courage and imagination to elect the first non-European in more than 600 years as well as the first Jesuit to be the new pope. The fact that the cardinals could do that in such a short time is, indeed, a hopeful sign.
Much closer to home, the departure of Jones could not have come at a worse time for the Clark County School District. We are in the middle of a school year full of difficult change and in the middle of the 2013 Legislature that, so far, seems as reluctant as ever to change the way it has been short-changing the students of Clark County for many years.
If ever there was a need for leaders to step up and make the difficult decisions rather than continue to follow a path of least resistance, now would be that time. How many more generations of Nevada students, specifically Southern Nevada students, are we going to let go by the boards because political leaders are driven more by politics than good governance? We can also ask the same questions when it comes to funding UNLV.
At least, and here is the ray of hope and sunshine, the Clark County School Board stood up this week and made two important decisions. The school trustees selected Pat Skorkowsky to be the interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is chosen.
Skorkowsky was just recently named deputy superintendent by Jones and is fully on board with the direction that Jones has mapped out for the School District. That is inspired because it is a clear sign that we are going forward and not retreating back toward a situation where one of the largest school districts in the country was not only one of the worst but was failing the needs of thousands of our children every year. That is not a recipe for success by any measure.
The School Board also has decided to move forward on a national search. Good, because that is clearly the way to find the best possible candidate to lead what should be the best possible school district in the nation.
What is especially heartening about this new direction is that both School Board President Carolyn Edwards and Skorkowsky seem to be saying the same thing, albeit in different words.
Edwards, in addressing some concerns about the direction the board should take in choosing a permanent superintendent said, “I believe we are in a very different place than we were two years ago. I believe that’s because of the work that Superintendent Jones began. We’re in the middle of that work. Our new superintendent needs to continue that work. There doesn’t need to be a slowdown, there doesn’t need to be a blip.”
Skorkowsky said it more succinctly. “It’s all about the students. We have to do better by our students. We have to do better by our teachers.”
That is the sound of leadership.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.