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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Georgia State Superintendent of Schools Visits Utopian Academy for the Arts

 

 

 

 

 

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RIVERDALE – Students at Utopian Academy for the Arts have been welcomed with yet another esteemed visitor.

State Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods visited the academy of 270 students in Riverdale on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. Superintendent Woods visited Utopian Academy following an invite from the school’s executive director, Artesius Miller.

As an active supporter of arts education, Superintendent Woods sat in an assembly alongside an audience of Utopian students, staff, parents and other supporters. Prior to the arts assembly, students from the culinary arts class served Superintendent Woods and guests breakfast menu items. Hosted by student council president Jabari Godfrey, the program agenda included the National Anthem sang by Utopian chorus members, monologue selections by theatre students, a short film produced by broadcast/video production students, and special remarks by Superintendent Woods.

Kayla Stokes, an eighth grader at Utopian Academy performed with an ensemble of dance and visual arts students to an original piece entitled, “The Color of Reality”. “Our performance today represents life, our goal was to bring reality to the stage and we did”, said Stokes.

Shortly following the arts showcase, Superintendent Woods traveled the colorful halls of Utopian’s facility and visited classrooms, alongside Utopian’s principal, Candice Jimerson-Johnson and executive director, Artesius Miller. “He expressed his support for the arts and his desire to see more students have the opportunity to participate in this dynamic discipline. We strive to develop academic and artistic students, and we fully understand how important having the support of our state leaders will be in assisting us in achieving our goals”, said Jimerson-Johnson.

While visiting Ms. Howard’s third period math class, Superintendent Woods met Dominique Carment and 20 other seventh grade female students. Dominique Carment recalls her experience from Superintendent Woods, “He asked me how was Utopian Academy different from my previous school. At Utopian, you get more of an education, I love my school”. Monica Daniel, another eighth grader at Utopian had the pleasure of having Superintendent Woods visit her broadcast/video production classroom. “The ability to talk to a person as him (Superintendent Woods) was an inspiration…he really does care for us”, said Daniel.

Superintendent Woods commended Utopian Academy for the Arts for offering a quality arts educational program, a curriculum that students in Georgia would greatly benefit. “It is an honor for Superintendent Woods to observe the talents that we help (our) students discover and develop at Utopian Academy for the Arts,” said Ebonne Craft, arts program coordinator of Utopian Academy.

Other program attendees included Bonnie Holliday, executive director of the State Charter Schools Commission; Sharon Daniel, Utopian Governance Board Chair; Matt Underwood, executive director, Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School; Jessie Goree, Clayton County School Board Member; David Mitchell & Kelli Bacote-Boone, Better Outcome for Our Kids (BOOK); Utopian PTA/PTO officials, and local religious leaders.

Utopian Academy for the Arts provides a significant educational benefit of serving as Clayton County’s only charter middle school, and the only public school in Clayton County that uses a single-gender instructional approach. Utopian Academy for the Arts is the only charter middle school in Georgia to offer a comprehensive educational program in the dramatic, media, and culinary arts.

To learn more about Utopian Academy for the Arts, please visit www.utopianacademy.com

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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