On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the Georgia Charter Schools Association recognized two of Georgia’s top charter school advocates during GCSA’s annual “Holiday Party and Celebration of Advocates” held at Buckhead Club in Atlanta. GCSA presented Dr. Artesius Miller, Founder and CEO of Utopian Academy for the Arts, and Lauren Holcomb, former Executive Director of the State Charter Schools Commission with “GCSA Champion for Children Awards” for their longtime support and commitment to children and Georgia’s public charter schools.
GCSA honored Dr. Miller for his work to build bridges and forge key partnerships within his local community despite a series of obstacles from local government that Utopian Academy of the Arts worked to overcome when it opened in 2014. In addition to those hurdles, Utopian’s charter petition was denied several times by the Clayton County School Board. However, Utopian eventually gained state approval from the newly constituted State Charter Schools Commission (SCSC) and the State Board of Education. Today, the charter network is thriving. In addition to the original middle school campus authorized by the SCSC, the Clayton County Board of Education later approved elementary and high school campuses for the charter network. Utopian opened a fourth location at Trilith Studios this past fall. The charter network offers an unparalleled arts-centered education with experiential learning opportunities that allow students to participate in hands-on activities designed to help them understand academic concepts.
Dr. Bonnie Holliday, GCSA’s Chief Strategy Officer told attendees that Miller sets a positive example for Georgia’s charter sector.
“After everything that happened, he doubled down on investing in his community, forging relationships where he didn’t think it was possible, mending fences with local board members, and working with corporate sponsors in the area.”
“The work of designing and developing Utopian Academy for the Arts was a true calling,” said Dr. Artesius Miller, “I’m grateful that we were given the ability to start a school and impact lives in ways that we never would have imagined.”
Lauren Holcomb was recognized for her advocacy work and dedication to students while serving as the Executive Director of the State Charter Schools Commission. In addition to ensuring that the SCSC remained a fair and transparent authorizer, Holcomb supported all GCSA’s major policy initiatives during her tenure as Executive Director.
“Lauren has been shoulder to shoulder with GCSA for every major policy initiative that has passed in the last five years,” said Bonnie Holliday, GCSA’s Chief Strategy Officer. “She supported everything behind the scenes from more funding for charter school facility grants, charter authorizer standards (which will someday hold authorizers accountable for their practices), and most recently, she supported House Bill 318…All of those things were done with kids in mind, which are always at the forefront of Lauren’s heart and mind.”
“I share this with all of you,” said Holcomb. “In this education space, we are all uniquely focused on what’s best for kids. That is something that is truly special about this group and a bridge that brings us together. We may not always agree, we may not always see eye-to-eye, but we are always working in the best interest of children. Thank you for pushing us, thank you for being pushed, and thank you for this award.”
Georgia Charter Schools Association is pleased to honor these top advocates and is grateful for their commitment to Georgia students and improving the state’s overall public education system. GCSA’s mission is to support, foster, and advocate for the development of high-quality public charter schools and networks that improve opportunities for Georgia students.