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The Arkansas Department of Education will assist Haas Hall Academy on the charter school's efforts to increase diversity among its students and staff.

Haas Hall officials appeared before the state Board of Education on Thursday to present information related to their diversity outreach efforts and student demographics. The board rejected the school's last report on the matter in February, citing a lack of information.

The board voted unanimously to accept the report Haas Hall presented Thursday, though some members still expressed frustration over what they perceive as an inadequate plan to boost diversity.

The board, after an hour-long discussion, agreed to have the school submit a written report in October on its plans for achieving greater diversity. The board will further evaluate those efforts in June 2020.

Haas Hall, which serves grades seven through 12 at four campuses in Northwest Arkansas, has been recognized as the top high school in the state by U.S. News & World Report each of the past seven years. It markets itself as a school that prepares students for college.

State officials, however, have expressed concern for several years that the student demographics don't match those of the communities Haas Hall serves in terms of race, income, special education and English language learners.

One example is at the Rogers campus, where the percentage of students who are Hispanic is 13 percent, compared with 45 percent for the Rogers School District. Also, 16.5 percent on campus are English language learners, about half that of the Rogers district's percentage.

"Until we reach a point where we say diversity is as important or has to exist with achievement, I think that we, unfortunately, are going to continue to have these same conversations and get the same results," said Jay Barth, the state board's chairman.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key acknowledged Haas Hall is getting good results from its students, but added, "We want you to show us that you can do this for all kids."

Key offered Haas Hall the department's help in showing the school can produce the same results "no matter which kids are coming," he said.

"We're open to that 100 percent," said Martin Schoppmeyer, Haas Hall's founder and superintendent, who participated in the meeting by phone.

Haas Hall's plan for increasing diversity among the student body is to promote the school by attending local festivals and events, advertising in print and online, and sending mailers twice a year that target minority families, said Kelly Barnett, the school's director of admissions.

Schoppmeyer listed several measures intended to draw members of minority groups to work for Haas Hall, including recruiting at conferences, increasing the school's presence at multicultural events and creating "ethnically sensitive" job announcements targeting Hispanics and blacks at colleges and universities.

Schoppmeyer added he's also in the process of becoming a certified diversity professional from a national organization.

Fitz Hill, a state board member, criticized Haas Hall's plans for failing to pinpoint when the school intends to accomplish its objectives. Hill also questioned who is helping the school devise its strategies and what their qualifications are. He recommended the school get someone who can build relationships with the community.

"Unless I'm missing something, I don't think you have those individuals. And until you do, I can't accept what you're doing," Hill said.

Susan Chambers, a board member from Bella Vista, encouraged Haas Hall to do exit interviews with departing students and staff members to get a better idea of what's working and what's not working. That will help officials create a more inclusive environment, she said.

Haas Hall opened in 2004 with a single campus. It has schools in Fayetteville, Bentonville, Springdale and Rogers and serves about 1,360 students combined.

Students apply for admission and gain acceptance through a lottery. The application doesn't ask students for their gender, race or any information related to disabilities.

Metro on 04/15/2019

Print Headline: State OKs Haas Hall diversity plan

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