Home Celebrity Exclusive: Will Smith-Backed Private School Closed Over Scientology Association

EXCLUSIVE: Suddenly without warning Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s privately funded New Village Leadership Academy shut its doors this summer. The school, in Calabasas, California, was a mystery: it used some Scientology curriculum and had gone through a couple of head administrators. The last one, named Piano Foster, had taken Scientology courses. But as late as last spring, New Village had been having auctions, and looked like it was returning in the fall. Then it simply shut down.

What happened? Hollywood veteran manager and producer Jeff Wald sent his two youngest daughters to New Village. I spoke to him yesterday. Wald had a lot of praise for Will and Jada, and for Piano Foster (real name Franca Piano Foster). He told me that despite the reports from “bloggers,” there was never talk of Scientology at the school.

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But, he said, “We could never get past the association. We couldn’t raise any money. And the Smiths were putting in $2 million of their own each year. They couldn’t keep supporting it.”

According to their last federal tax filing, in 2011, New Village finished that year in the red with a negative balance of -$284,931.

Wald says the idea of New Village was to offer “middle class black kids a chance” for a good private education. He said that “eighty percent” of the students were African American. The tuition was low by comparable standards. “Just $25,000” a year, he said. Private schools in New York, by comparison, run at around $40,000 a year.

The curriculum included basics, Wald says, but also special projects that kept the students engaged– like making videos about Occupy Los Angeles, or fashion projects that were about body imaging and self esteem. The students also had days of community service.

Some children of sports stars were starting to come to New Village, Wald says, including the toddlers of New York Nets players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. There was at least one back up singer for One Direction. Hollywood show business attorney Ken Hertz, who was on the New Village board, didn’t return several phone messages and emails. His wife, Teri, was also on the board.

Many of the people who worked at the school had connections to the Smiths. But Wald says when Will Smith was informed the son of one of his employees, a student, was bullying other kids, he was asked to leave New Village.

“They didn’t play favorites,” says Wald, whose daughter will miss the school. “We never met nicer people, and we had a lot of laughs. The Smiths helped a lot of people.”

And still, Wald emphasizes, he is friendly with Piano Foster and may do a project with her. Her husband, he says, works for Will Smith now. He adds: “There was never any proselytizing about Scientology.”



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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
15 replies to this post
  1. Hey Artoo45, the “building that’s never going to be completed” (assuming you’re referring to the Super Power center in Clearwater) is opening next month!

  2. The story misses much. Fails to mention that the school was not certified and that Ms. Foster colluded with the board to keep the enrollment low enough to qualify as a homeschool thereby staying under state requirements. Fails to mention the abysmal testing results of students, that several students were unable to move into public schools at the same grade level there were in at NVLA. Fails to mention that Ms Foster laid off two teachers while out on maternity leave, failed to notify parents of the pending closure until the end of the school year. Fails to discuss the pervasive use of Study Tech, that most of the administrators, many teachers and the head of curriculum were, are, Scientologists. There is much going on here, including pending lawsuits and possible legal action. https://whyweprotest.net/community/threads/yearly-update-on-new-village-leadership-academy.107117/page-3

  3. Sad that good man like Will has such low self esteem to have joined Scientology, the lure of all there fake compliments preying on the weak self esteem of others, Hubbard stole techniques from Buddha, basic psychology, elementary education and inflated that with sci-fi and brain wash techniques wrapped in toxic greed that steals a soul to control a wallet. The man was a raving lunatic with no original thoughts of his own but perhaps his only skill was writing sci-fi if that.

  4. Can we assume, the Hollywood showbiz attorney, who was a member of the board, is a Scientology higher up? I bet there are a lot of movers and shakers behind the scenes in Hollywood that are high ranking Scientology members. Is this? What makes Hollywierd go round?

  5. I like Jeff Wald… he’s been around Hollywood forever and has survived his cocaine addiction and all the mess he made of things in his life that came with it. He’s what they call ‘a trooper’ . But what Jeff fails to mention ( and perhaps he is unaware of the fact of ) is that Scientology “study technology” was the primary method used by the school and students, therefore, making it a Scientology based school. So, regardless if anyone is calling it for what it is, his kids were educated and trained in Scientology practices.

    This also happens with attendes of Scientology front group Narconon and related programs. The secular use of religious practices cloaked by nice looking coursebooks with drawings instead of Scientology policy letters and bulletins format. Same stuff, different format is all. Now maybe Jeff does not mind all that, but if he’s aware of it then he’s misleading the readers here.

  6. Instead of trying to give “middle class black kids a chance,” it is more accurate to say the school was indoctrinating middle class black kids into scientology. Scientology is an equal opportunity cult/business/organized crime syndicate, and they see a relatively untapped market in the African American community. Of course L. Ron Hubbard was racist, in addition to being a delusional drug addict and a con man, but as long as you are handing over all your money, scientology really doesn’t care what your ethnic background is. In fact, Louis Farrakhan has sold out the NOI to scientology — he gets a commission for every recruit he brings in.

  7. It doesn’t matter if there was proselytizing or not. Scientology, even a whiff of it, is toxic and nobody wants to support this abusive cult. And it’s not about Xenu, alien cootie infestations, trillion year time scales, or other tidbits of Hubbard’s unintentionally hilarious “religion.” It’s about the the Sea Org slaves, the RPF, disconnection, the Hole, Slappy Miscavige’s constant regging of public Scientologists for ever greater amounts of “donations” for a building that’s never going to be completed. It’s about a massive Ideal Org real estate fraud being perpetrated in order to give the impression that the cult is growing when it’s numbers are in a free fall. That’s the poison that people want nothing to do with. It’s sad that the Smiths went into this with the noblest of intentions and that they’re too blind to see the horrible gulag that they subsidize with their contributions to Scientology and it’s unregulated front organizations.

  8. I am sure scientology was charging the school out the nose for the privilege to use L Ron Flubtard’s education “technology.” Here’s what that “technology” is: if you don’t know what a word means, look it up in the dictionary. Yup, they charge big bucks for that advice. What he genius L Ron was!

  9. of course there was never any proselytizing about scientology. they’re using scientology’s study-tech. not trying to tell people its scientology study tech. LOL. nobody would come. the fact is, there’s really no debate about what it was, which is why you couldn’t “get past” the association. you can’t get past something that is so fundamental to what you’re involved in.

  10. I’m so tired of these scientology stories going to print without the writer researching and printing factual content. The school used L Ron Hubbard Study Tech, which is indoctrination to scientology. They teach the kids to rat on each other and their parents. The education is poor quality and most kids who attend the L Ron Hubbard schools, do poorly in higher education and usually drop out of school altogether. There is research to back this up. Also, almost all of the kids end up either joining the Sea Org or at least end up as severely, brainwashed, hard core scientologists. By the way, everyone mentioned in this article, is a known scientologist.

  11. The Smiths were throwing $2 million a year at the school on top of the school fees, that seems an awful lot of money to run a school, I wonder how much of that money went to the church of scientology.

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