Acting on a tip from a parent that was posted over at WhyWeProtest.net, we contacted a former teacher at New Village Leadership Academy to ask if the school in Calabasas, California has shut its doors permanently.
He said that it has, and forwarded us to a Facebook message that was posted on June 28 by Eva Sanchez, who worked at the school: “Today, I closed a beautiful beautiful book full of great people, wonderful memories & endless stories that I will never forget. Tough day!”
We have confirmed directly with a member of the academy’s board of directors that the school has closed down.
The school achieved notoriety for having been supported by generous donations from actor Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, whose children attended classes there (but haven’t for some time). Tax records show that the Smiths also were on the school’s board of directors. New Village Leadership Academy was a non-profit, independent school for kindergarten through sixth grade.
Although the Smiths play down their connection to the Church of Scientology, New Village Leadership Academy made use of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s “study technology,” which is a part of what every church member must learn.
As described in its tax returns, the school took in $1,235,000 from the Smiths’ WJS Trust to get the academy going in 2008. According to press reports, $889,000 of that was used to lease a facility for three years — previously, it had been the site of a public high school.
Roger Friedman, who keeps a close eye on Smith’s charitable giving, noted more recently that the Smiths’ donations to Scientology-related entities are way down.
According to the school’s most recent tax return, in 2011 the school had taken in $2.1 million in contributions, down from $2.8 million the year before. A source familiar with the academy’s history tells us that the Smiths had financed the first three years of the school, but had hoped it would become self-sufficient after that. Despite numerous fundraisers, NVLA was unable to raise enough money to keep going.
In 2009, the Smiths fired the woman who had been hired to run the school, Jacqueline Olivier, reportedly because she had clashed with the couple about the use of the Hubbard materials. She was replaced by Franca Campopiano, also known as Piano Foster. She was still listed as the head of the school in the latest tax return.
Our source who taught at the academy told us that not only were the children at the school learning Scientology’s “study tech,” but also concepts of Scientology “ethics” were being introduced to students. (The church’s “ethics” generally contain policies that reinforce Scientology’s systems of interrogation and control.)
There’s no indication at the school’s website that anything has changed. However, responding to Eva Sanchez’s Facebook message, another Academy employee, Sisu Raiken, wrote: “And today is the first day of whatever is next. Thanks for your loyalty and hard work, Eva! I know we will meet up in the future. And soon!”
We put in a call to Will Smith through his production company: We later heard back that Smith had no comment.
While we wait for more details to emerge, please enjoy this look at the school’s staff during happier times…
Posted by Tony Ortega on July 3, 2013 at 14:00
E-mail your tips and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.