It was evident, during a Clayton County board of education meeting Monday, that Artesius Miller has a passion to help the district’s youth. Miller stood before members of the board, Superintendent Edmond Heatley, and scores of educators, petitioning for board of education members to approve his charter school called Utopian Academy for the Arts.
“The time is now! The time is now.” Miller told board members. “It’s the second year that we have applied for our charter application. Clayton County is in need of help and we’re the only school offering something unique.”
Though Miller appeared to have a slew of supporters present at Monday’s meeting, who were holding signs in the air and chanting, it was not enough. The board of education, on Heatley’s recommendation, voted to deny Miller’s petition to start a charter school, for the second time.
“It’s just not something that the district is not already offering,” said Pam Adamson, chairperson for the board. “By law, a charter school has to be unique and different from what we are already offering.”
However, Miller said, Utopian Academy of the Arts will bring something the county has not seen which is, an arts education program — S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) — longer school days and school year, Saturday school, provide adult advisors for each student, single-gender instruction, and smaller classes.
Adamson said the county offers arts programs in the elementary and middle schools. She also said the district just incorporated a S.T.E.M. Program that will be offered at Rex Mill Middle Magnet School, which is open to all Clayton County students. “[Miller] had a good petition,” she said. “There’s just nothing unique about the school.”
Miller, however, told a reporter that he believes the board’s decision to deny the charter school is based on what he called the superintendent’s biased views about charter schools. “It’s unfortunate how politics supersedes what’s important for our students,” said Miller.
Adamson disagreed. She said the decision to deny Miller’s petition had nothing to do with the views of the superintendent. “[The superintendent] does not have a vote, it’s the board members,” said Adamson. “Our decision was not based on anything sinister or evil, it’s just we are already offering those programs Miller is petitioning for.” Adamson added she suggests that Miller try to establish his school in another county which is in need of programs he’s trying to provide.
The number of students attending public charter schools across the country has grown by an estimated 76 percent in the last five school years, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS). Student enrollment in public charter schools grew from 1,165,200 students in 2006-2007 to an estimated 2,035,261 in 2011-2012. Over the same period, the number of public charter schools grew by 41 percent — from 3,999 to 5,627 — with 521 new public charter schools opening in the 2011-2012 school year alone.
“Support for public charter schools transcends party lines and ideological backgrounds, with more Americans now realizing the extraordinary opportunities that public charter schools provide to children, communities, and our country,” said Ursula Wright, interim president and CEO of NAPCS. “Yet, despite the significant growth experienced in recent years, demand for charter schools in our country far outpaces the number of seats available to students in these schools.”
Miller said his reasons for pushing to get approved for a charter school by the school district was because it will provide more funding for each student, rather than going through the state. After exhaustive efforts of trying to get approved through Clayton County Public Schools Board of Education, Miller said he will apply with the Georgia State Board of Education, but will still operate Utopian Academy of the Arts in Clayton County.
“The state is offering more funding now, so I will pursue that avenue,” he said. Miller added that he will also apply for a $600,000 Federal Charter School Grant. Miller said once the charter school is approved and established, in the first year, he said the goal is to accommodate 300 students and have at least 12-17 teachers. Miller said he’s considering a building in Riverdale to operate the school.
Though Miller said he will not petition the school board anymore, he said will still be at the board meetings, getting signatures from the community and parents who will be in support of the school. He said he hopes to have the school operating by the fall of 2013.
“It’s been a journey for us but, we’re working to support our students,” he said.