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Will Smith’s failed private school kept Scientology connections hidden from parents

[This post has been updated.]

When Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith opened their privately-funded school in Calabasas California back in 2008, it received quite a bit of media attention. However, the school soon became the subject of controversy when parents complained that they were misled about some of the curriculum that was being implemented — namely a teaching technique called “Study Technology” — a method that was devised by none other than L. Ron Hubbard.

Amazingly, the next chapter in the school’s troubled history managed to stay relatively below the radar of the press. On June 28 of 2013, New Village Leadership Academy was quietly shut down, apparently closing its doors for good.

No official reason has been given for the school’s closure (of which both the Smith children attended) and the famous Hollywood couple hasn’t spoken a word about it to this day. But sources say that the school began to run into funding problems after parents got wind of its Scientology groundwork, leaving Will and Jada to pump in $2 million a year of their own money just to keep the facilities afloat.

The New Village Leadership Academy was housed on the former campus of Indian Hills High School in Calabasas California

The New Village Leadership Academy was housed on the former campus of Indian Hills High School in Calabasas California

In 2009, the Smiths fired the woman they hired to run the school, Jacqueline Olivier, allegedly because she voiced objections to the use of Hubbard’s teaching methods. According to the RadarOnline, Jada phoned Olivier and told her that they had “decided to go in another direction with the school.”

Replacing Olivier was Piano Foster, a woman who by her own account had “worked for the past 20 years at various public and charter schools.” But raising a few eyebrows were some other notable aspects of her resume. Foster had completed a Scientology Basic Study Manual course in 2005 and her name appears on an official Scientology “service completions” list.

Speaking to the watchdog site The Underground Bunker, an anonymous source who used to teach at the school claimed that not only were the students subjected to Scientology’s “Study Technology,” but the church’s concepts of “ethics” were also being implemented. “Ethics” are policies that Scientology uses for their interrogation and control systems.

Ultimately, the exposed connections to Scientology caused parents to turn away from the academy. Reports say that the Smiths financed the school’s first three years of operation hoping that it would become self-sufficient. But even after numerous fundraisers in the final months of its existence, the NVLA was unable to raise enough money to keep going.

The school’s website has been taken down and its phone number disconnected. But an eerie testament to the desperate final months of the NVLA is its Facebook page which still remains.

After the revelations began to emerge, posts on the school's Facebook wall were less than enthusiastic.

After the revelations began to emerge, posts on the school’s Facebook wall were less than enthusiastic.

Scrolling up the news feed shows a slow devolution from an academic theme to an online auction, hawking celebrity memorabilia — mostly belonging to Will and Jada. The last post from the page is on May 11, 2013, boasting of the academy’s intent on “expanding to more locations throughout the country.” The final request of the post reached out to parents and students as if nothing was amiss, reminding them to “Stay tuned….”

Below is a promotional video the NVLA put out in happier times:

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48 Comments

48 Comments

  1. Pingback: Will Smith’s privately-funded school crumbles under revelations of Scientology connections | ceci n'est pas une blog

  2. Carla Billups

    September 18, 2013 at 4:54 am

    Well it shouldn’t be a problem for their kids after the Smith’s son has been tweeting how horrible school and that it is “a tool to brainwash youth” and is promoting dropping out. I guess there was more to his message than just an angry kid!

  3. floop

    September 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Piano. huh.

  4. Ricardo F. Garcia

    September 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Too bad. The “Technology of Study” is a pretty good technology to help kids and adults study and understand a subject by addressing the gaps in understanding created through confusion as one “studies” it.

    A lot of people blast Scientology ignorantly. They only focus on the few random people who have committed crimes and happen to have taken Scientology courses or belonged to a Scientology organization. I have had a very positive experience applying concepts I’ve learned from Scientology and working with Scientologists on a humanitarian mission to Haiti right after the devastating earthquake.

    It’s like taking a guy who committed a crime and happened to “follow” Christian, Jewish Muslim or any other religion and blaming the crime on the religion itself. Can we say that everything in Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions is bad because of people who cannot interpret and apply the teachings and precepts their prophets intended correctly?

    As the quote attributed to the Buddha says: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” There are a lot of great Scientology courses/teachings that could help a lot of people live a better life. See for yourself. If it works for you, use it, if not, leave it.

  5. mhawthorne64

    September 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    While I understand peoples’ apprehensions with regards LRonHubbard and Scientology, wigging out over Study Tech is just people tripping out over things they know nothing about. In a nutshell, study tech involves using dictionaries when you study (how can you understand an idea if you don’t understand the words used to describe that idea?) and then being able to demonstrate that you DO understand what you just studied by being quizzed on the subject matter, or being able to show examples of what you just read.

    Hardly the boogey man people seem to think it is.

    And as for the ethics part, well it’s only scary if you don’t understand ethics in general – back to the dictionary…

    (I attended a high school run by scientologists in Oregon – Class of ’82)

  6. Paul

    September 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Mr. Garcia, I followed my Bible correctly and killed my wife on our wedding night because I found out she was not a virgin. You can thank me for correctly following the holy scripture of my religion.

  7. Shelly Miscavige

    September 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Ricardo, Scientology’s abuses are well known, and this is why Scientology is failing. Over 2,123 Ex-Scientologists have left the cult and are now speaking out. Leah Remini blew, so can you. It’s time to wake up. Good luck!

  8. Tony

    September 18, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Scientology is a religion that basically uses 1950s psychoanalytical techniques and repackages them as ‘auditing’. It is a means to separate the gullible from their money and time, in my humble opinion. Others might disagree.

    But, they are a religion and people can believe whatever they wish: be it Xenu and the Supervolcanoes, the Jewish zombie-carpenter, the arab trader who seems to kill a lot of people, the bronze age tribal leader with bad direction or the indian apathy-prince. Take your pick.

    What differentiates scientology from the rest is the litigious nature of the religion, the aversion to any sort of criticism, and the very engaged online involvements of their adherents.

    I also think teaching children religious techniques (for they are not evidence-based or scientific) to children without their implicit consent is not a great idea and ultimately, ol’ Will and Jada have sealed the school’s fate via their own hubris. Regarding what their child said, well he’s a child and it is part of growing up – I said much worse. We were all young and stupid once.

  9. Tony

    September 18, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    By harmless do you mean ‘doesn’t believe that learning disabilities exist’. That sort of thing?

  10. masterk9999

    September 19, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Any school run by a religion is suspect. There is an inherit conflict between religion and reality. That applies to Scientology more than most since at least most religions are upfront about their dogma. Scientology hides it as long as possible so you are fully indoctrinated before you learn about the Galactic Ruler Xenu sending spaceships that looked like DC-10’s into volcano’s.

    Oh and about Scientology work in Haiti. Check out http://gawker.com/5462117/scientologists-in-haiti-a-firsthand-account

  11. Bruce Draken

    September 19, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Atation. Its practices are the essence of brainwashing & indoctrination.:

  12. Bojuke

    September 23, 2013 at 4:28 am

    The founder was a criminal. I guess he just misinterpreted his own scripture.

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  14. Kevin Michael O'Connor

    November 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    This isn’t a religion.The worst Sci Fi writer ever…(LRon Hubbard) Flogged his novel idea of a conman who created a religion out of pop psychology and galvanic skin response meters…No one would publish it.A year later he founded the real religion…and got rich.Eventually he and all of his huckster friends died or got pushed out and it got taken over by people that actually believe its bullsh!t….Scary.

  15. Bert

    April 16, 2014 at 11:37 am

    so feeding little snippets of Scientology to children is OK? Drug dealers give away free samples, sometimes to children also. Sure glad they never get hooked…

  16. Schoolman

    April 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Regardless of scientology’s well known flaws, study tech is not such a bad idea. Scientology might be 95% bullshit, but that study tech method actually works. Of all cults out there, scientology might actually be the one that has the most “scientifically & psychologically proven” aspects to it, along with its massive amounts of bullshit and money that people have to pay. I guarantee you that study tech is actually a lot more effective than the teaching methods employed in most schools. This is very sad.

    One thing that L Ron Hubbard got right was the notion that learning disabilities are a way of labeling and therefor, not having to deal with children who have not been able to learn in a setting that ignores whatever repertoire of knowledge (or lack of knowledge) and definitions they have acquired. I am not saying that ADHD and other disabilities are not real, but most of the diagnoses are wrongly done so.

    I am not speaking as a scientologist, but as an educational psychologist (who would be scorned by scientologists), who has read Dianectics, and who used to be friends with scientologists but never converted because I was rational enough to see through bullshit.

    If only methods like this one were employed in public schools, funded by the states, instead of private schools funding scientology.

    I think Will Smith was being too sectarian with his school and thats why it failed. Had he been more open to criticism, maybe the school would’ve not lost its funding.

    Lastly, I’d like to say that things are not as black and white as they seem. If we want to get rid of scientology’s influence, people must become aware of scientology’s strengths in addition to its weaknesses. If all we do is speak negatively about a certain cult, it would be that much easier for them to “prove themselves.” We must become of aware of the traps it uses to lure people in (which often do work)… if you wanna put it that way. All of the benefits of this cult can be easily and cheaply acquired by investing time into well thought out education on learning, schooling, ADHD, ect…. if you’re an upper middle class parent with the time do so.

  17. John D. Law

    September 16, 2014 at 5:35 am

    Dear Paul, Then you must be an idiot!

  18. Gray Hunter

    September 16, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    “A lot of people blast Scientology ignorantly.” That’s a laugh. There is simply no excuse for believing Scientology crap. None. Y’see, the 5 major religions gained their “authority” when man was profoundly ignorant and there was no scientific method for investigating phenomena. But by the 19th century, that excuse is no longer viable (so there’s no excuse for Mormons either) By the 20th century, only a moron would fall for this Ron Hubbard bet. Scientology, and its sneaky mafia methods are things only a fool would fall for….. no matter how much money he makes.

    There’s really no excuse in this day and age to believe ANY religious magical baloney.

  19. Danilo Raul

    January 5, 2015 at 12:43 am

    Scientology is for well worded morons that are always trying to defend the undefinable… like you!

  20. Andrea Abrahams

    January 5, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Schoolman you’re a psychologist yet you made such a jumbled post full of contradictory ideas? Scientology is the most scientifically and psychologically proven religion? When it denies the field of psychology altogether? As someone previously pointed out, most religions came about during a period of scientific ignorance yet I am not aware of any which dismiss modern psychology as a whole. I shudder to think what other misnomers you disseminate in your professional capacity.

  21. Tory Christman

    January 5, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Well, having been “in” Scientology for 30 years, and escaping out…at the time I knew 4 young people/Scientologists who had taken their own lives. I’ve now been out 14 years…and now know, personally, 12 young Scientologists or Scio families who have taken their own lives. I HOPE Will and Jada take their son’s comments seriously…and realize Scientology KILLS people. If you were part of this “School”…be thankful it’s closed. Blessings to all, Tory Christman

  22. Cj

    October 4, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Great analogy. People who have actually studied the religious texts correlating historical events are quite aware of the violence it has lead to. The little good that does come from it doesn’t come close to outweighing the bad because we do not even need religion in order to obtain those same benefits. Religion is a poison to the mind causing people to take irrational positions on countless arguments often due to their cognitive dissonance or preexisting biases;

    We need more people thinking logically and being far more skeptical rather than being gullible by having faith, thereby resulting in people’s beliefs of outlandish claims despite the absence of any reliable evidence whatsoever.

    Look at all the damage religion has caused thus far. Do your research not only for your belief but the opposition as well. And ask questions to help determine which position is more viable, has more evidence, makes logical sense, higher probability of being true, whether or not it’s a known fallacy or tautology, etcetera before accepting such drastic and senseless claims like Scientology, Christianity, and other religions have offered. Because in the end, the future belongs to us, atheists (recent polls have shown). It’s really just a matter of time until theists figure out why.

  23. Cuthbert

    December 30, 2015 at 5:17 am

    Let’s be honest here. We’re all friends. If they did kill themselves, it isn’t like it woulld actually matter, right?

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