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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Utopian Academy Teachers, Administrators Prepare Scholars For Strong Finish to Second Half of School Year

Utopian Academy Teachers, Administrators Prepare 
Scholars For Strong Finish to Second Half of School Year

Teachers and administrators at Utopian Academy for the Arts welcomed scholars back to classes recently and challenged them to work even harder to achieve academic goals set for the second half of the 2016-17 school year.
Utopian Academy’s Executive Director Dr. Artesius Miller said scholars have a strong foundation in academics and the arts that will prepare them for success in 2017 as they take center stage for more performances in the community and face Georgia Milestones Exams in the spring.
“Utopian Academy is preparing scholars for success in school and in life by exposing them to a rigorous curriculum that challenges them to not only meet and exceed Georgia academic standards, but also to express their mastery of core subjects through the arts,” Miller said. “Our scholars are supported by experienced teachers and industry experts who work as actors, artists, dancers, chefs, and filmmakers. They get to see how their lessons in the classroom prepare them for careers.”
The Year In Review
Utopian Academy board members and community supporters have high expectations for a strong finish to the school year based on the successes students and faculty have achieved since August. The school year opened with the addition of a new principal, Candice Jimerson-Johnson, and a restructured Fine Arts Department. Drama was restored as one of Utopian’s core arts focuses. The others are: music appreciation, band, chorus, visual art, culinary arts, dance, and broadcast/video production.
Ebonne Craft, a visionary arts educator who launched Utopian’s first school musical in 2015, left the classroom to devote her full attention to serving as Arts Program Director. Utopian Academy made an exciting new hire in the Drama department. Tonia Jackson, a veteran actress with a recurring role on Oprah Winfrey’s hit church drama “Greenleaf,” was hired as the new acting teacher.  Jackson shares her on camera experiences with scholars to help them understand how their lessons in drama and language arts will help them in show biz.
unnamed-1“I appreciate her taking time out of her schedule to come here and work with our scholars,” Craft said. “She gives them real life experience because she works in the actual entertainment industry. I think it’s awesome.” 
The changes in the Fine Arts Department were necessary to support Utopian’s growing profile in metro Atlanta and the increase in the demand for signature performances. (Utopian Academy has continued to send outstanding dance students to the Alvin Ailey Summer Dance Camp. Last summer, scholar Darion Turner was selected for the program for the second year in a row.)
Since Utopian Academy opened in 2014, scholars have been asked to perform at several major events in metro Atlanta including the inauguration of Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia School Choice Rally last school year, and the National Conference of Charter School Authorizers this school year. Utopian Academy was the only school invited to perform at the NACSA convention last fall. 
Miller said the student performance, which included dancing, singing, and the video production “Yes, We Can” created a buzz on social media. “People were going on Twitter to share how much they enjoyed our students, and that they were moved to tears by the performance,” Miller said.
Utopian Academy also received rave reviews for their performance during a visit by Georgia Schools Superintendent Richard Woods in October.  Student Government Association president Jabari Godfrey introduced Woods. Choral and dance students also shared the spotlight.
And in November, excitement over the school musical “Grease” prompted administrators to search for a larger venue to accommodate the families and friends of Utopian who wanted to see the show. Fifty scholars in grades 6-8 were featured among the cast and stage crew in the school’s largest musical production to date.
Miller said the school’s usual venue at a local church was too small to accommodate advance ticket sales for “Grease.” The production was then moved to Banneker High School in Atlanta, which has a 500-seat theater. Craft said students were ecstatic about opening the show in a larger space. The show was directed by Utopian Academy music teacher, Erica Thomas. 
The role of “Sandy” was performed by seventh grader, Chadai Jones. Richard Stewart, a sixth grader and youngest male lead actor in a school musical, was “Danny.”
“We had a real stage in a theater,” she said. “The kids performed very well and showed off their music and dance skills. The show was great. W e had a large turnout. ”
The curtain call continued as scholars took center stage for performances in December. The dance team marched in the City of Riverdale holiday parade. Singers and dancers at Utopian also entertained seniors at Governor’s Glen Assisted Living Community.
The next major school production, “A Black History Month Dinner Theater,” will be held on Feb. 24. 
Other highlights of first semester:

Dr. Artesius Miller: The founder and executive director of Utopian Academy received his Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy from the University of Georgia. Miller developed relationships at UGA that have now opened doors to other faculty. Miller said UGA has added Utopian Academy to a group of select school districts that it will partner with to educate approved staff seeking advanced degrees or professional development.
·      Welcome New Board Members: Gavin McGuire, Usher’s New Look Foundation member; and JoAnn McClinton, retired state representative.
·      Eagles of the Month: D’Ryah Peoples, Chadai Jones, and Yasmin Harris.
·      Staff/Teacher Eagles: Crystal DeVaughn, Doris Warren, Raymond Harris, and Talithia Davis.


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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