The idea for the Utopian Academy for the Arts Charter School Network was developed in 2009, when our Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Artesius Miller was a graduate student at Columbia University. Dr. Miller’s development of Utopian Academy for the Arts was in direct response to outweighing the economic and educational disparities that existed within the Clayton County community.
Following the loss of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the Clayton County Public Schools District was identified as a community in need of alternative public education solutions, including increased options for parents to have access to charter schools.
In 2009, Dr. Miller developed a founding Board of Directors inclusive of community members and stakeholders who shared his bold vision of creating high quality, innovative, and fiscally sustainable charter schools. This group included George Bandy, Dr. Marcus Barber, Anthony Bryant, Jackie Heard-Fields, Jai Gilyard, and the late Linda Faye Stevenson. From 2009-2011, Dr. Miller and the Founding Board composed the charter petition for its flagship charter school, Utopian Academy for the Arts Middle School.
Between the years 2011-2013, charter petitions submitted to the Clayton County Board of Education were denied. Through changes in Georgia legislation, specifically through House Rule 1162, a new state-level charter school authorizer was created in efforts to provide an appellate process for charter schools denied by local boards of education in Georgia. Of the 16 initial petitions submitted to this newly created entity, the State Charter Schools Commission (SCSC) of Georgia, 12 groups were invited to interview based on the quality of their submitted petitions. Of this group, the SCSC only advanced four petitioning teams in the process. However, on October 30, 2013, the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia only approved one school—Utopian Academy for the Arts.
In the 2014-15 school year, Utopian Academy for the Arts opened its doors against all odds. Throughout its four-year residency in Riverdale, Utopian’s challenges from local city officials and the Clayton County school system prompted state officials, including then Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to intervene on the school’s behalf to prevent several disruptions and interferences in its day-to-day operations. Even further, after two visits within a six-week period from Governor Deal, state legislators recognized the necessity for developing policies and legislation as preventative measures for other future charter schools to avoid Utopian’s rocky start. During the 2015 legislative season the “Utopian Academy for the Arts Act” was signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal. This bill passed unanimously, House of Representatives Passed (170-0 Vote), Georgia Senate Passed (169-0).
Following leadership changes on the Clayton County Board of Education and the appointment of a new Superintendent, Dr. Morcease Beasley, a new chapter began for Utopian Academy for the Arts. The charter school district’s fight with Clayton Schools eased, and Dr. Beasley welcomed Utopian Academy into the Clayton Schools family. As newly developed partners in education, Utopian Academy for the Arts and Clayton County Public Schools developed formal agreements to support the collective missions of developing an even stronger Clayton County.
In 2018, Utopian Academy’s overall performance was higher than 78% of Georgia public schools and its students’ academic growth outpaced 99% of the state’s schools, according to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. With the strong success of its middle school program, the Utopian Academy for the Arts was approved by the Clayton County Board of Education to add a second school. The Utopian Academy for the Arts Elementary School began its operations during the 2020-21 school year with over 150 students in kindergarten and first grades. Utopian Academy for the Arts Elementary will add a grade each year, ultimately serving grades K-5 by the 2024-25 school year.
In 2022, the Utopian Academy for the Arts is planning to expand its network to serve high school students. The demand for the expansion of the Utopian Academy model in Clayton County has been consistent since the opening of the middle school program in 2014. Parents of elementary, middle, and high school-aged children have continued to request a K-12 pipeline in which students could have access to the Utopian model high school graduation.
Utopian Academy for the Arts High School will open as the first charter high school in Georgia to support students with attaining principles and practices of film and television media through partnerships with post-secondary institutions and employment opportunities with industry-leading entertainment partners. As a “one-of-a-kind” educational model, it is the vision of Utopian Academy for the Arts’ founder Dr. Artesius Miller, the Governance Board of Utopian Academy for the Arts, and the school community to extend enrollment opportunities to as many students as possible, regardless of their physical addresses in Clayton County.