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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Two Utopian Academy Scholars Direct Union City Mayor Video
February 19, 2016
Contact: D. Aileen Dodd, Communications Director, Utopian Academy for the Arts; 404-808-5428scoopyou24@yahoo.com.

Two Utopian Academy Scholars Direct Union City Mayor Video


RIVERDALE – Two Utopian Academy for the Arts scholars were recently recognized by Union City Mayor Vince Williams for their role in directing the Mayor in a video that was prominently featured in his municipal address. The scholars, Tyrik Ponder, a sixth grader, and Jordan Allen, an eighth grader, were part of a professional crew of 10 working on the “State of the City” video message for Union City.

The production team included Fulton County School seniors and film students, Clayton State University Film Students (part of the Georgian Film Academy) and local entertainment industry veterans who volunteered to shepherd the young students.The video message was filmed in early February at a green screen studio set based in Fulton County School District’s north office.

The Utopian Academy scholars were accompanied on the job by Mr. Artesius Miller, Founder and Executive Director of Utopian Academy and Lauren Lawson, Utopian’s broadcast instructor.As soon as the scholars arrived at the studio, they excitedly began performing their production duties.

Having previously broken down the script, they met with Mayor Williams and asked him to share his thoughts related to the spirit of his speech. Williams’ “State of the City” address was already prepped and ready on a teleprompter. The students had the Mayor rehearse the speech several times to determine what areas of the message he wanted to emphasis to really connect with viewers.

“I need them more than they need me,” Mayor Williams said of his student directors. “The students are our future.”“We have got to make sure we invest in our young people,” he added. “With an opportunity as huge as the film industry, we have got to create the opportunities that will allow them to be ready to walk on the set and do what’s needed.

”Ponder, a member of Utopian Academy’s Broadcast Club, said he was excited to work with Mayor Williams and to perform a real job in film production. “I want to be an editor when I grow up,” he said.Allen was thrilled about working with other older film students and industry veterans. “This will definitely help me get more jobs,” said Allen.The project was led by executives of a new purpose-built studio facility that is being built in Union City.

Ed Richardson and Brian Livesay are Founders and Managing Partners of Atlanta Metro Studios. Their new facility has a strong commitment to industry based educational outreach and this project with Utopian is just one example of the great opportunities to come for Georgia’s youth.

Atlanta Metro Studios is also working closely with the Georgia Film Academy to create opportunities that will meet the needs of the state’s ever growing film industry.  The Georgia Film Academy is just one more example of Governor Deal’s enduring commitment to our state’s booming film economy.

Allen counted down the start of the “State of the City” video on a quiet set. “Three-two-one- action,” he said, as the camera began to roll.Both scholars took turns coaching the Mayor’s performance and working directly with him on notes to enhance his delivery.

They asked Williams to have fun with it, emphasize certain words of the script as rehearsed, and to use his hands at times to make a larger impression.In between takes, Lawson found teachable moments. She asked Allen and Ponder to name the industry equipment around the room and what it is used for.

The students did a great job interacting with older students and industry professionals, and picked up pointers that will serve them from now on in their production efforts.Following the camera wrap for the Mayor, the scholars then went to the sound booth to assist the Mayor in recording an additional voice-over needed for the script.

“We at Atlanta Metro Studios are extremely excited about our collaboration with Utopian Academy for the Arts,” Richardson said. “We have an amazing partner in Founder and Executive Director, Artesisus Miller.  Utopian’s commitment to nurturing academic excellence with a focus on the arts is giving students a firm foundation to succeed in our ever changing global society,” Richardson added.

“Utopian’s commitment to teaching students in a relevant, integrative, and challenging environment is the root of our collaborative partnership.”“Atlanta Metro Studios is committed to engaging with the students at Utopian to introduce them to Georgia’s film industry professionals and to involve them in local productions, said Livesay (a Production Designer by trade, who put on his mentor hat for the production).

Our ability to offer early exposure for Utopian’s students to a creative and collaborative career path is another way we can strengthen the immense local talent pool for this booming industry.”Miller said he was “honored” that the Mayor chose to work with Utopian scholars.

“This is what Utopian Academy is about – equipping our scholars with industry knowledge and academic knowledge that prepares them to be successful on the job,” he said. “We are preparing students for college and careers.”Ponder’s mother, Iayiana Ponder, was impressed by her son’s professionalism.

“This was a great experience for Tyrik,” she said.Stacie Allen agreed. She said her son Jordan Allen had a “wonderful” time working on the video. “This will help him to thrive and to explore more options in an area that he has expressed interest in.”



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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