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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » HISTORY

UAFA HISTORY

1995

Beginning in 1995 to prepare for the 1996 Olympic games, Atlanta began the process of demolishing housing authority apartments throughout the city. Over a ten year period, this continued and majority of those families were relocated into Clayton County, GA.

2008

In 2008, the state of Georgia and our nation witnessed the Clayton County Schools District lose its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; the second U.S. district in 40 years to lose accreditation. The accreditation loss and the removal of the board members generated anger and concern about the fate of the 52,000 students in the largely black district’s 59 schools. Additionally, as a result of accreditation lost, there was a significant increase in the number of students dis-enrolling from district schools.

2009

Recognizing the need for education reform and increased charter school offerings in Clayton County, school founder Artesius Miller began to develop a founding board of directors.

2010

In 2010, C-TRAN, the county’s proprietary public transportation system dissolved. Also during this time, MARTA (Metro Atlanta’s Public Transportation System) discontinued services to/from Clayton County.

2011

Utopian Academy for the Arts charter application denied by the Clayton County School Board. 7-1 Vote

2012

1. Seeking alternatives, families that don’t have the option of moving from Clayton County and/or enrolling their children in private schools, seek public school choice options including charter schools. Unfortunately, in Clayton County, the demand for charter schools significantly exceeds its supply. There are currently only 3 charter schools within the County. The Clayton County School Board has not approved any charter schools within the last six years. However, as evidenced by the 2012 November general election, Clayton County voters had the highest percentage of Georgians to support the Charter School Constitutional Amendment (HR 1162), with a total of 71% in favor!

2. Utopian Academy for the Arts charter application denied by the Clayton County School Board.  4-2 Vote

 

2013

1. Utopian Academy for the Arts charter application denied by the Clayton County School Board. 4-3 Vote

2. Utopian Academy for the Arts was approved by the State Charter Schools Commission on October 30, 2013; the only school approved out of 16 initial statewide applications!Recognizing the need for education reform and increased charter school offerings in Clayton County, seven individuals were brought together by Founder, Artesius Miller to create Utopian Academy for the Arts. Initially, Utopian Academy was founded on the premise to service the educational needs for Clayton County’s most “at-risk” population, African American and Latino teenage males. However, with changes in federal education laws including Title IX, Utopian Academy for the Arts revised its enrollment plan to include female students.

2014

The rationale for the enrollment plan of Utopian Academy for the Arts is three-fold and is supported by research. We seek to provide a significant educational benefit of serving as the county’s only charter middle school, and the only Clayton County public school that uses a single-gender instructional approach. Additionally, our school is the only public school to offer a comprehensive educational program in the dramatic, media, and culinary arts.

2015

House Bill 372, “The Utopian Academy for the Arts Act” is introduced during the 2015 General Assembly. This bill prohibits additional requirements of a charter school to operate when it has passed state facility inspections and received a certificate of occupancy. This bill will ensure that no other authorized charter school experiences the roadblocks and challenges Utopian Academy faced at the beginning of our first school year.
House of Representatives Passed (170-0 Vote).Georgia Senate Passed (169-0). Signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal on April 21, 2015

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August 31, 2015August 31, 2015
RIVERDALE - When 300 students at Utopian Academy for the Arts reported to classes last week, there was no sign on the lawn letting them know that they had reached the right place. The name of the school had been removed by order of the City of Riverdale.This week the sign is still bare.The City of Riverdale has prohibited Utopian from using its school sign to welcome visitors or identify the building until administrators secure a business license. School officials, however, maintain that Utopian is a public school so a business license is not necessary. The debate has caused the school to accrue fines in the hundreds of dollars for violating city code. Administrators say the fees and threats are just another attempt to “bully” Utopian into pulling out of Riverdale.“They don’t want people to know that a school exists at 6630 Camp Street,” said Artesius Miller, executive director of Utopian. “They have stripped us naked and said basically ‘You all will not have anything so that people will know that you are even here’.”Similar tactics last year resulted in delaying the opening of school for more than a week. A Clayton County fire marshal denied administrators, teachers, and students the right to access the building saying that Utopian needed a last minute inspection among other things to occupy the premises. Utopian lost 80 students after its delayed opening.Utopian’s rocky start inspired legislation to protect state-approved public charter schools from similar stall tactics. The "Utopian Academy for the Arts Act," which went into effect in July, prohibits local governments from requiring public charter schools approved and inspected by officials with the state Department of Education to be forced to obtain any other licenses from local government entities to operate their school.The law does not protect a charter school’s signage, however.In the weeks before classes began this school year, a City of Riverdale code enforcement officer left a violation notice on Utopian’s door warning administrators to take action immediately: “Remove banner until permit is issued and apply for a business license.” Miller said that a member of the Clayton County School board advised him that other county schools in Riverdale are not required to have a sign permit or a business license. “Every time that we have attempted to have some type of signage, we were told that we needed a permit or we were being fined because we are not affiliated with the Board of Education in Clayton County,” he said. [columns] [column half][pullquote left]

Where Is Utopian Academy for the Arts? City Prohibits School From Using Sign[/pullquote][/column] [column half]

“It got really nasty,” Miller said of a recent surprise visit from code enforcement before school began."

Miller said that he has received calls and notes from the city warning that Utopian has accrued fees in the hundreds of dollars for violating city business license and sign codes. “It got really nasty,” Miller said of a recent surprise visit from code enforcement before school began. “The guy came and tossed the [fee list] in the face” of a school supporter.Miller took video footage of the visit that shows a code enforcement officer telling him and a school supporter that an inspection of the school’s signage was necessary because “the Georgia Department of Education does not look for stuff like this on buildings.”For the second year in a row, Miller turned to the State Charter Schools Commission for reinforcement. Miller got a letter explaining to the city that schools authorized by the commission are indeed public schools, not businesses.“Utopian Academy for the Arts is a public charter school authorized by the SCSC- a state level authorizing entity under the authority of the state Board of Education,” wrote Gregg Stevens, general counsel for the commission.“Accordingly, Utopian Academy for the Arts should at all times be treated like a public school with the privileges, rights, and obligations afforded thereto …” Utopian opened in August 2014. It was denied the right to exist by the Clayton County School board in 2011, 2012, and 2013 when the district rejected its charter application. The local denial was over-ruled by the state in October 2013. The state Charter Schools Commission granted Utopian Academy the authority to serve kids for five years as a state charter school. It was the first charter school to win approval from the new commission.[/column] [/columns] State Rep. Valencia Stovall, who supported the opening of Utopian in Clayton and co-sponsored the new law protecting charter schools from harassment, said it was “disheartening” to learn that Utopian is still having trouble with local government.“They should be treated as any other public school opening in the city,” Stovall said. “Instead, they have been hit from both sides from the City of Riverdale and the Clayton County School Board.” Stovall said that in addition to racking up fines from the city, Clayton Schools is exercising its right to charge Utopian much higher rent than the building’s earlier tenant. Utopian pays $3,000 a month to use the building compared to the Riverdale Development Authority, which had a lease allowing it to pay $1 annually for 20 years.School leaders say they refused to be forced out of Riverdale by local leaders who see them as competition. “Being in this fight for so long has been a tedious journey for me not only as a board member, but also a parent,” said Sharon Daniel, who chairs Utopian’s governing board. “We will not give up. We will educate the City of Riverdale.Utopian is a public school. We have a right to be here.” CLICK HERE FOR THIS RELEASE IN A DOWNLOADABLE FORMAT