Utopian Academy for the Arts charter school gets state OK in Clayton County

JONESBORO — Artesuis Miller left the school board meeting this week in higher spirits than he did five months ago.

The Clayton County Board of Education split in voting down his petition to start a charter school back in June. But he returned smiling this week to let the board know that the same petition earned state approval.

Miller is the founder and chairman of the seven-member Utopian Academy for the Arts founding board. He submitted the charter application to the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia after the local board rejected it for the third consecutive time.

However, he learned last week the commission accepted that petition in a unanimous decision Oct. 30, granting its 5-year start-up charter.

“Utopian Academy for the Arts was approved,” said Miller. “In fact, Utopian Academy was the only charter school approved during this petition cycle out of 16 statewide applications received.”

Miller will chair the start-up charter school, expected to open next fall on the former campus of Woodward Academy at 8009 Carlton Road in Riverdale.

The school was proposed to accommodate as many as 300 students in grades six through eight in year one, adding more students in subsequent years.

Miller said classes will be held over an extended day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on a 190-day school calendar with mandatory bimonthly Saturday school.

The proposal also provides “dramatic arts,” “media arts” and “culinary arts” programming in additional to single-gender classes in core subjects — math, English, social studies and science — with help from the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards-aligned Expeditionary Learning curriculum.

He said the Utopian Academy board of directors soon will begin a search for an executive director and an academic director who will oversee non-instructional staff and instructional faculty respectively.

There will be eight non-instructional staff tasked with governing day-to-day operations, he said. The board plans to have 15 full- and part-time faculty members dealing with instruction. He added food services and custodial services will be outsourced.

Enrollment will be open to any student in Clayton County unless enrollment surpasses projections. Then, interested families would have to submit to an enrollment lottery.

The school will be funded directly through the state beginning July 1 based on the school’s projected full-time enrollment. Miller said the board also will seek other funding sources, including private and federal charter school grants.

“We’re very grateful for the opportunity,” said Miller. “We wanted to give the families of Clayton County something different. We’re the first of hopefully many more in our community.”

Program information is at www.utopianacademy.com.