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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » UTOPIAN ACADEMY FOR THE ARTS TO OPEN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL


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Utopian Academy for the Arts has received unanimous approval from the Clayton County Board of Education to open a new public charter elementary school in August 2020.

The elementary school was authorized to operate as a local charter school that will be part of the Clayton County school district. The new facility will initially enroll 125 students in kindergarten through first grade, and then grow into a K-5 school that will accommodate up to 300 scholars at Utopian Academy’s current building at 2750 Forest Parkway.

“We are experiencing a feeling of euphoria right now,” said Dr. Artesius Miller, superintendent of Utopian Academy.  “As we think about the educational experience that we want for our scholars, and the educational experience that has occurred for the last five years, we now have been blessed with the opportunity to expand and extend our reach to include elementary school students. We appreciate the support of Clayton County Schools.”

“I am overjoyed,” said Joshua Menifee, who chairs the governing board of Utopian Academy. “This approval comes because of the success that we had with the middle school. I can’t wait for it to open.”

The Clayton County school board’s unanimous approval of Utopian Academy’s charter petition is representative of the new spirit of partnership that has blossomed between Clayton County Schools and Utopian Academy since Clayton Superintendent Dr. Morcease Beasley began his tenure. Concerned about competition, the Clayton school board had earlier denied Utopian Academy the right to open its inaugural middle school in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The local denial was later over-ruled by the state in October 2013 when the State Charter Schools Commission authorized Utopian Academy to open as Georgia’s first state commission-chartered middle school.

“We are so happy that we have joined together with Utopian Academy,” said Dr. Alieka Anderson, Clayton school board’s vice chair. “This has been a long time coming. We will support the school in any way we can. Clayton County Schools and Utopian Academy are one.”

Utopian Academy school leaders will spend the next year hiring staff, recruiting students, and ordering books, furniture, and supplies for the new elementary school. Utopian Academy developed an innovative model to young students that supports the needs of both the academically-challenged, as well as the high-achieving. The academic program follows national standards of excellence and best practices. It was designed with input from administrators, stakeholders, and members of the local community.
As a charter elementary school, Utopian Academy will provide gender-based classroom environments, instruction catered to the learning styles of students, and supplemental arts courses in the areas of theatre, dance, general music, chorus, visual art, piano, photography, and filmmaking — non-traditional areas that have become the cornerstone of its middle school program that are not typically offered at the elementary school level, Miller said.
“The demand for the expansion of the Utopian model in Clayton County has been consistent since the opening of the middle school program in 2014,” Miller said. “Utopian has enrolled students from various elementary schools from across Clayton County. For each school year between 2014-2018, nearly 33 percent of each enrolled cohort of new students have entered without several foundational skills necessary to be successful in middle school and beyond—literacy and numeracy skills. We seek to address the root cause of this problem by expanding vertically to create a pipeline of preparedness for middle school that includes a rigorous elementary school experience.”

Utopian Academy takes a no-excuses approach to teaching and learning among its largely economically disadvantaged population. The curriculum is designed to produce scholars who are well-rounded in the arts and well-prepared for success in high school. Middle school teachers use academic strategies rooted in research that have helped scholars to outperform Clayton County middle schools in all subject areas, from math to language arts, and the state in sixth and eighth grade English/Language Arts, sixth grade math, and eighth grade science on the 2018 Georgia Milestones Exams.

The school has managed to thrive despite early roadblocks. Its opening day was initially delayed in August 2014 when Riverdale city officials insisted that Utopian Academy needed a business license to operate as a free public school.

Utopian’s rocky start inspired legislation to protect state-approved public charter schools from similar struggles. Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill in April 2015 called the “Utopian Academy for the Arts Act” that 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 legislation was designed to protect public charter schools from being stifled by municipal governments.

Utopian Academy currently has a projected enrollment of more than 300 students for the 2019-20 academic year. The school serves students in grades 6-8.

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