Will said at the time, "There are just very powerful educational concepts that we believe in, and we feel like we want to design the system that revolutionizes public education."
The couple insisted that despite rumors, they were not Scientologists, and that the school would be secular. But now, the woman who was hired as the first principal of that school, which closed earlier this year, is stepping forward to claim that that was all a lie. Jacqueline Olivier tells Scientology expert Tony Ortega that the school was actually "100 percent" Scientology-focused, on the Smiths' orders, and that the controversial curriculum failed the kids it was supposed to help.
Olivier says that when she first met with the Smiths, they insisted New Village Academy was "an opportunity to found a school. They were going to spend a lot of money. It was going to be secular, and it would use best educational practices." That would include, the Smiths said, the "Study Technology" curriculum created by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, which encourages children to make clay models of difficult concepts and look up any words they do not understand in readings.
But, Ortega says, she soon realized that "calling it secular was a sham."
"I started finding out … what they were really up to," she says.
At a home school the Smiths ran before New Village, "All of them were Scientologists," she says. " … al the teachers went over to the Hollywood Celebrity Centre every day for other Scientology courses.
Olivier hired a few non-Scientology teachers before the school opened in 2008, but claims that all of them were forced to take Scientology courses before starting. "You couldn't interact with the kids until you'd taken a bunch of Scientology courses," she says. "And they were still supervised by Scientology teachers to make sure they didn't make any mistakes using Scientology Study Technology."
"They even wanted the parents to take Scientology courses," she claims. "And they had a course room right on campus. With L. Ron Hubbard posters on the walls."
Scientology "was the basis for the whole school," the former principal continues. "That was the overarching reason for it. Will Smith would even say, 'Scientology has to be 100 percent in…"
As Olivier continued in to her first year, taking Scientology courses and overseeing their instruction to children, she says she began to realize just how far she had unwittingly fallen into the world of Scientology. "It gets deeper and deeper, and at some point you wonder, what am I doing here?" she explains. "It could have been a great school, but they were so vigilant about the Scientology aspect of it. In a fourth grade class, they were reading a first-grade text because they were so worried about the kids running into a misunderstood word. If a couple of kids got into a scuffle at recess, it had to be the result of a misunderstood word. It was so dull. The teachers were so bogged down following these rules, but that's what Will and Jada wanted."
In November 2008, she told her bosses that things just weren't working out, but they convinced her to stay. Two months later, however, they brought in a family friend and ardent Scientologist, Piano Foster, to be the "director of curriculum," and enforce the Scientology Study Tech even more. Subsequently, Olivier says, things only got worse.
"The parents were complaining that it turned out to be Scientology," she claims. "A lot of them left. I kept telling them, 'No, it's secular.' But then I'd walk by a room and see kids doing clay demos and I felt sick. Eventually, my professional integrity wouldn't allow me to stay there any more."
But that wasn't a decision that Olivier ever got to make, because the Smiths fired her at the end of the school year on June 23, 2009. Olivier also says that all but one of the other non-Scientology personnel were let go at that time as well.
Five years later, the school closed its doors, with some reports citing "parents' outrage" over the heavy reliance on Scientology Study Tech.
A source told Star magazine this summer, "Will and Jada put millions into the school, but there's a lot more to a school than money. If people don't agree with the teaching material, then all the money in the world won't save it."