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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Students Named To SWAG Team For Outstanding Achievement


Students Named To SWAG Team For Outstanding Achievement


Twenty Utopian Academy scholars were honored for outstanding academic achievement on the Measures of Academic Progress Assessment, a standardized test that evaluates student performance in reading, math, and science.

The scholars were recognized recently at an awards ceremony where they were presented with T-shirts boasting their accomplishment. The “SWAG” (Students With Academic Growth) shirts were designed by a visual arts student at Utopian Academy.

SWAG is a way to recognize students for academic achievement,” said Ms. Kelli Peterson, principal of Utopian Academy for the Arts.  “Based on the test, we were able to see which students were performing on grade level, below grade level, and above. For any of our students that achieved above grade level on reading, math, or science that is something we definitely wanted do celebrate.”

Nearly 10 percent of the school’s 250 scholars exceeded standards in at least one or more categories on the MAP Assessment.  The benchmark exam provides individual student data on the strengths and weaknesses of each scholar. Teachers can use the data to design lessons that offer academic support for struggling students and academic enrichment for those who are performing at high-levels. Retests are then given to determine whether scholars are showing improvement in core subject areas over a period of time.

According to the recent MAP Assessment, between 74 percent to 85 percent of sixth graders at Utopian are meeting and exceeding standards in math, reading, and science. The range was slightly higher for upperclassmen. The data shows that between 80 percent to 84 percent of seventh graders and between 76 percent to 87 percent of eighth graders are meeting and exceeding standards in math, reading, and science.

Utopian scholars who aced the exams were applauded as high fliers. Girls received pink SWAG shirts and boys received blue SWAG shirts. Seventh graders Kayla Stokes and Jailyn Sorrells wore their SWAG gear proudly on a recent day.

“I never thought that I would have an opportunity to receive an honor like this,” Stokes said. “It’s really exciting.” Sorrells, who wore her pink shirt under fashionable overalls, agreed. “It feels pretty good.”

Both girls said that they would continue to work hard in their classes to maintain their academic standing as members of the SWAG Team. The T-shirt designer, Naomi Swanson, was floored to see classmates wearing her creation. She unknowingly designed the shirt as part of a special project for Peterson. The principal even paid the eighth grader for the job.

“ I took the design to a printing company and placed it on some shirts,” Peterson said. “Students didn’t know anything about this until we had an assembly in the cafeteria. We called everyone’s name and presented them to the students that had performed above average. The T-shirt is their ticket to dress down every Friday.”

The experience gave Swanson a glimpse at what her future could hold if she continues to pursue her passion in graphic arts. “It means so much to me,” Swanson said. “They didn’t have go out of school to get a T-shirt designed. I did this with my own artwork and my own talent. That means that I have potential. I know how to make art. I can use that talent for so many things.’’

Scholars who did not receive SWAG shirts still have time to earn the honor. The next MAP Assessment will be administered during the winter months before holiday break. The high fliers will be invited to join the SWAG Team.

“We want to get kids excited to be smart and give them something to work for,” Peterson said.






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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