The state’s first creative arts charter school network began a new era this fall with the opening of UAFA High School. The addition of the campus fulfills Utopian Academy Charter School Network’s vision of offering a kindergarten to college experience for young creatives seeking academic rigor and a pathway to careers.
UAFA High School Principal Dr. Bryan Reese said his team reported to work in July eager to transform the existing Clayton County Public School building into a creative arts environment. The school opened with 150 freshmen and sophomores. A new grade level will be added each year through 2024 until the high school awards degrees to its first graduating class.
“We worked hard to ensure that we had the smoothest opening possible,” Reese said. “We had teachers and staff members who came in and moved file cabinets and desks, cleaned rooms, and bleached floors after we got the keys to the building. I can’t image people in a regular school having that type of commitment to come in and do the work at that level. It is impressive that they were invested enough to do it. We are all excited about the new academic year.”
In its first year of operation, UAFA High is already competing with established arts magnet schools in Clayton County and metro Atlanta private schools.
Dancer Nyla Elliott got excepted to Martha E. Stilwell School of the Arts for her freshman year but chose to attend UAFA High because she wanted to continue her matriculation through Utopian Academy with her classmates and fellow creatives. She was looking for a traditional high school experience with sports teams, activities, and an opportunity to continue to pursue the arts.
UAFA High is partnering with the Georgia Film Academy and Trilith Studios to produce a new wave of entertainment industry talent with hands-on experience in acting, filmmaking, screenwriting, film-scoring, and animation. When students reach their junior year, they will be able to take college coursework in dual enrollment programs offered in collaboration with the Technical College System of Georgia.
“My daughter had other options, but she really wanted to follow the school to see where it was going to lead her on the path of her dance career and performing arts style,” said Susan Elliott, Nyla’s mother. “She is a very strong dancer.”
Susan Elliott added that continuing to Utopian Academy High School was always the plan for her children. Her oldest daughter, a high school senior who is following the passion for culinary arts that she honed at UAFA Middle, missed the opportunity to attend UAFA High because it had not opened yet. But Elliott’s son, who is currently a UAFA Middle student, will follow in his sister’s footsteps to UAFA High.
UAFA parent Natalie Fikes said that she is excited about the new school year. Her son, Elijah Fikes, a budding actor and award-winning filmmaker was being homeschooled until UAFA High opened in August. He was exposed to Alvin Ailey Camp, entered a local film festival, and received a scholarship from comedian and television and radio host Steve Harvey during his years at UAFA Middle.
“My son thrived in his years at Utopian Academy Middle School, and I want him to be in the inaugural graduating class at Utopian High,” she said.
Since the inception of Utopian Academy for the Arts, there has always been “overwhelming interest from parents and students” to create a high school, said Dr. Artesius Miller, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Utopian Academy for the Arts Charter School Network. “Thanks to the Clayton County school board we will continue that journey our high school will be a pipeline to college and competitive arts professions,” he said.
UAFA High has 18 teachers and staff members, including some educators who transitioned from UAFA Middle. Images of the school’s faculty of teaching artists appear in murals in the foyer of the high school.
“I have an amazing team of leaders. I don’t lead teachers—I have principals in classrooms,” Reese said. “I am so proud to be putting some of them into doctoral programs this year. I measure my leadership effectiveness by how many leaders I create. If I am not creating leaders, who is following? I believe that they will be the leaders of our future Utopian Schools.”