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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Utopian Academy Welcomes Movie Industry Execs And State Leaders To Partners In Education Celebration

Utopian Academy Welcomes Movie Industry Execs

And State Leaders To Partners In Education Celebration

 

 

RIVERDALE – Utopian Academy for the Arts will welcome state legislators, movie producers, and Georgia education leaders at a Partners In Education Open House celebration Friday, May 6.The event, which runs from 8:15 a.m. – 9:15 a.m., is being held to thank industry professionals and lawmakers who supported Utopian Academy during its first two years of operation.Utopian Academy scholars will showcase their artistic talents during Partners In Education Day. The dance team, pep band, and choir are among those who will perform. Culinary arts students will serve breakfast. Guests also will tour the campus and observe lessons being taught in single- gender classrooms.

 

Utopian Academy’s dynamic teachers challenge scholars to use their creativity and artistic expression to demonstrate subject mastery. Utopian Academy’s college prep curriculum is designed to produce scholars who are well-rounded in the arts and well prepared for success in high school. Students tackle math, science and language arts, and also take classes in broadcasting, visual art, music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and culinary arts.

 

“Our name, Utopian Academy, means idealistic social reformer,” explained Sharon Daniel, governing board chair at Utopian Academy. “For the past two years, we have stayed true to our name. It is changing how people perceive education South of Interstate 20. I believe that now people see us in a different light and believe that our kids are talented and can achieve at high levels.”More than a dozen Utopian Academy Partners In Education are expected Friday. Officials with the Georgia Charter Schools Association; State Rep. Valencia Stovall; Hollywood film producer, Reuben Cannon; and executives at Atlanta Metro Studios are among the invited guests.

 

“We appreciate the financial and in-kind support offered by our Partners In Education this school year,” said Artesius Miller, executive director of Utopian Academy. “Our partners have been there for us in every way possible. They have mentored students, provided industry expert guidance to our classrooms, and helped us to fund school materials and equipment. We are grateful for their generosity.”

Utopian Academy currently educates more than 200 scholars in grades 6-8. This is Utopian Academy’s second year serving students. The school recently received a one-year lease extension from Clayton County Schools for its site at 6630 Camp Street in Riverdale.

 

Some of this year’s scholar highlights include:

  •  Fourteen scholars were selected to participate in the 2015 and 2016 Alvin Ailey Summer Camp
  • Two scholars attended the 2015 Steve Harvey National Male Mentoring Program
  •  Eight broadcasting students participated in the Through My Lens Atlanta Program
  • Fifty scholars attended leadership training session sponsored by The Ludacris Foundation and Usher’s New Look Foundation

 

Utopian Academy was initially 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 students for five years as a free public charter school. It was the first charter school to win approval from the new commission. The school’s opening was later delayed for nearly two weeks in August 2014 when city officials insisted that Utopian Academy needed a business license and other permits to operate.

 

Utopian’s rocky start inspired legislation to protect state-approved public charter schools. Before the end of Utopian’s inaugural year, the school was immortalized in Georgia law. 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.

 

 

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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