Scientology ties at New Village Leadership Academy

The Calabasas, California private elementary school New Village Leadership Academy (NVLA) opened its 2009–10 school year this week amid controversy over its connections to Scientology.

The school was founded by celebrity couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who paid about US$1 million to lease the facility in 2008. Former head of school Jacqueline Olivier was removed from her job in July, and replaced by Piano Foster, an individual who has taken Scientology courses at the organization’s Celebrity Centre.

Smith and Pinkett-Smith are good friends with Scientologists Katie Holmes and her husband Tom Cruise.

In 2006, Smith acknowledged to World Entertainment News Network that he had discussed Scientology with Cruise: “I’ve talked to Tom about it. [There’s] lots of incredible, wonderful concepts but Jada and I don’t necessarily believe in organized religion.” ABC News reported that 2008 tax returns for the Smiths show they gave $122,500 to organizations with ties to the Church of Scientology.

In an interview with Ebony, Pinkett-Smith denied the school was affiliated with Scientology: “All I can say is it is not a Scientology school. Now, If you don’t trust me, and you are questioning my integrity, that’s a whole different matter. That is straight evil to think I would bring families into that educational institution and then try to get them to convert into some religion,” she said. According to New York Daily News, the school is registered with the government of California as “non-religious”.

The school utilizes a teaching methodology called Study Technology, which was developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Study Technology is promoted through Applied Scholastics, a Scientology-associated organization founded in 1972. “Study Technology is a secular methodology intended to help students better understand what is being studied and apply it to real life,” said Pinkett-Smith in an email to ABCnews.com. Karin Pouw, an official with the Church of Scientology, was contacted by ABC News but did not comment on a possible affiliation between NVLA and Scientology, instead referring questions back to the school itself.

New York Daily News cited Radar Online in reporting that former head of school Olivier was fired from her position because she had issues with the Study Tech teaching methodology used in the school. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Olivier was removed from her $200,000 position with the school because she reportedly did not agree with portions of the school’s curriculum which were developed by L. Ron Hubbard.

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