WINNEMUCCA - Having spent a couple of years in South Africa, I have become interested in the customs of the various tribal groups throughout the continent of Africa.

We have frequently heard the mantra, "It takes a village to raise a child." This focus is exemplified by the Masai tribe in Northern Africa. When a warrior visits a different village, his greeting is, "How are the children?" This simple saying defines the importance of acknowledging our future and defining a culture in which the success of our children begins within ourselves.

There is a train of thought that believes a person can make a meaningful judgment regarding the effectiveness of a business or school after walking around for 15 minutes or even less. How is this possible?

Educational experts have identified school culture as one of the most critical factors in determining the effectiveness of a school. These experts have defined school culture as the overall tone, mood, or "feel" of a school.

Although these are far from scientific terms, they are easily discernable when walking the halls, observing classes and students while engaged in learning, and in discussions with staff, students and parents. School culture is what defines the driving purpose for a school community.

Dr. Mike Fienberg, founder of the KIPP schools, provides a clear way we can think about school culture. The comparison is a casino.

Dr. Fienberg states, "From the moment you step through the front door, everything is designed for one simple reason - to have people spend their hard-earned money. And the casino operators have become incredibly effective at creating a 'culture' that achieves their goals." A quick walk down Las Vegas Boulevard will confirm the success our casinos have in bringing visitors to our state.

So if casinos can establish such a culture, how can we, as a school district, develop our own culture of excellence? I believe that it starts with a careful self-examination of the district as a whole.

In defining our culture, there are a series of questions we must address: Why does Humboldt County School District exist? What does our district believe in? What do we want to accomplish this year, next year, and 3, 5 and 10 years from now? How does the district reflect and model the character we believe in?

As with the Masai, the development of culture begins within each of us. This leads to a question. In evaluating school culture, which is more important: a mirror or a magnifying glass? Each has a role, but it is the mirror that is more important in this case.

Ultimately, culture begins with each of us; as a result, it is necessary that we reflect on what we have to offer individually. Contrary to the mirror, the magnifying glass turns from internal and places a focus on external factors.

There are no shortcuts, no silver bullets and no knights in shining armor when it comes to developing culture. Rather, there is only ourselves. The old saying goes: "If it is to be, it is up to me."

I believe that we are on a solid track to developing a culture of excellence in Humboldt County School District. Despite this progress, there are a number of areas that require our attention to ensure a continued focus on what is most important: the students of Humboldt County.

One way that we are working to instill this culture is through the development and implementation of five areas of focus. These include: 1) We trust that we are all here for the best of children; 2) We embrace conflict as it is through conflict that solutions are discovered; 3) We commit to the vision, mission, and strategy; 4) We hold ourselves and each other accountable for great results; and, 5) We measure and assess our district's results often.

As a district, we are focusing on the development of a vibrant and inspiring school culture. Ultimately, everything we do revolves around one critical factor: that every student graduates both college- and career-ready. With this in mind, we continue to develop a culture that exemplifies this belief.

James Baldwin is attributed to saying, "Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." As a district, we are up to this challenge.

Dr. David Jensen is Superintendent of Schools and can be reached at or at 775-623-8192.