[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.
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.
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: