COMPANY: Utopian Academy for the Arts
Artesius Miller has an impressive track record. He received the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship when pursuing his undergraduate degree at Morehouse College. He also spent time as a financial analyst for top banking firms, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. Still, in all his success, Miller was not satisfied with his career path. He decided he wanted to start a charter school. Leaving Wall Street to start a school may seem unconventional, but Miller says the move was natural for him. A combination of his experience as a public school student and his family background was all the inspiration he needed. “My family is full of educators and I didn’t like my first profession, so I decided it was time to take up the family business.”
With his goal in mind, Miller took up positions in the education industry to bolster his knowledge and experience in the field. He worked with Mosaica Education, a global education management organization that oversees schools around the world. He also worked as an apprentice at the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, helping develop key programs. Miller, eventually, became the foundation’s National Program Director.
Now at 27, Miller is the Founder and Executive Director of Utopian Academy for the Arts (UAFA), his very own charter school. At his core, Miller believes education is the long-term solution for improving a community’s economy. “One of the best ways you can make a community different is through the youth, who will eventually become adults.” Despite these accomplishments, Miller’s journey has not been without hardship.
Opening a school may seem like the type of altruism anyone would support with open arms. That was not the case for Miller when he set out to start UAFA. He found himself facing pushback before there was even a building bearing the school’s name. When Miller proposed a new Clayton County charter school, he was denied three years in a row by local government. Miller decided to appeal to the federal government in hopes of a different verdict. UAFA became one of sixteen schools to be examined and approved, making it the first school ever to be authorized by the state of Georgia. However, just as in any startup, this was not the only obstacle. There was more work to be done.
Managing young students is not an easy process, and Miller had to work overtime to earn the approval of locals. Still, there were more hiccups. Students were turned away when the school opened its doors for the first time in August 2014. On the second day of school, after one period of classes, faculty and students were forced to evacuate the building. “The fire department came to the school because they said the building was not safe. It needed to be inspected.” The Utopian Academy for the Arts finally opened its doors a week after its originally scheduled first day of school.
Despite the school’s rocky beginnings, Miller hopes UAFA will eventually restore faith in the Clayton County education system. Miller says his first priority is making sure students are up to speed, but he makes it known that this is only the first Utopian Academy for the Arts of many to come. “I’m making sure this school is successful because it’s the pilot school.” Miller plans to open a high school under the same name in the next two years so UAFA’s eighth graders can stay in the UAFA system. There will eventually be an elementary school as well.
Miller says that regardless of UAFA’s rough start, he deems it to be a success. “To have a concrete image of what you dream—taking an idea and making it a tangible solution. That is success for me.” Miller says that at this point, however, the school needs broader community exposure. “Some parents don’t even know about it.” Fortunately for him, the word is getting out. Several media outlets have picked up his story and in September 2014, rapper Ludacris and Governor Nathan Deal visited the school to show their support.
The Utopian Academy for the Arts may very well be the beginning of a Clayton County school system worth being proud of. Artesius Miller has made it clear he will not have it any other way.