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Haas Hall Academy, the Northwest Arkansas public charter school that's been wildly successful in educating its student body, sat through another round of taking its lumps the other day.

If the state Board of Education was on the LinkedIn social media app, among its hobbies might be listed "Throttling Haas Hall officials over its diversity shortcomings." It has happened fairly regularly.

What’s the point?

The state Board of Education needs evidence of innovation and intentionality in Haas Hall Academy’s efforts to diversify its student body.

That's not to say, however, that the state panel doesn't have a point.

In every other aspect of educating kids, Haas Hall is deserving of praise and recognition. But the four-campus charter school has struggled to produce a student body that looks like the demographics of Northwest Arkansas or the public school districts from which it draws students. It's also failed, so far, to satisfy members of the Board of Education that its efforts to reverse that reality have been adequate.

The school has a stellar reputation, but it is to a degree sullied by continued questions about whether its approach to education is innovative or if its student body is just made up of top-tier, highly intelligent students who would likely be successful no matter where they pursued their high school diplomas. As long as the diversity of its student population falls short of expectations, there will be those who wonder.

"We want you to show us that you can do this for all kids," said Johnny Key, the state's commissioner of education.

The good news is Key offered -- and Haas Hall founder Martin Schoppmeyer embraced -- the state's help in showing the school can produce impressive results "no matter which kids are coming."

Haas Hall does not appear to have ignored the Board of Education's past admonitions. Schoppmeyer and other school officials recently detailed its efforts to increase diversity in its student body: Promoting the school through local festivals and events that draw audiences of minority populations; advertising strategically; sending mailers out that target minority families. The school also says its pushing to get employment opportunities in front of potential Latino and black employees. Schoppmeyer himself said he's in the process of becoming a certified diversity professional from a national organization.

One Board of Education member, Fitz Hill, however, questioned whether Haas Hall has the personnel or expertise needed to drive dramatic change in its student body. That, it seems, would include people who look and speak like the populations the school is desperately in need of reaching.

"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.

Among the challenges for Haas Hall is how to produce more applicants from minority populations. A few weeks ago, the school held its lottery for 501 available spots in its four schools. Haas Hall received 1,560 applications. The applications don't ask about race, gender or other types of classification information. In theory, however, if more applicants are coming from minority populations are, more minorities will make it through the lottery selection process.

What seems clear from the frequent bashing from the commission in Little Rock is Haas Hall can't keep doing what it has been doing. It's not enough. But it's good to hear Commissioner Key offer help to identify specific actions Haas Hall can take to satisfy the commission.

Ultimately, the proof will be in what the student bodies of Haas Hall Academy's campuses look like. In the meantime, however, commissioners won't be satisfied absent some specific and aggressive actions that create the incubator necessary for producing more diverse student bodies in the future.

Intentionality can be shown through specific hiring decisions. It will be far easier for Haas Hall to produce results in diversifying the student body when the faculty and staff looks as diverse as the greater population that surrounds the schools' campuses.

Why is this anyone's business? Haas Hall isn't a private school. It's a public school, authorized to receive state taxpayer funding. While charter schools are free of some regulatory burdens regular public schools must adhere to, they are not free from accountability and their promise is to demonstrate innovation in the business of education Arkansas kids.

The commission is basically saying let's put the "I" in team: Innovation and intentionality.

Commentary on 04/20/2019

Print Headline: Putting the "I' in team

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