Corrections or additions?
This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the May 15, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A Comeback for Boys’ Schools
For some, the idea of creating an all-boys school
for the 21st century might seem more like a step backward into
Neanderthal times than a step forward. After all, isn’t it still a
world designed for males by males? Why should boys deserve special
treatment, educational or otherwise?
But Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart isn’t attempting to turn
back the clock as much as they are trying to redefine the future.
Located off of the Great Road in Princeton Township, just down the
road from the all-girls Stuart Country Day School, the academy is
a private school for boys in junior kindergarten through eighth grade.
Using Stuart as a model for its curriculum, Princeton Academy aims
to integrate Christian values with intellectual challenges designed
to cater to the developmental needs of boys.
The Academy, at 101 Drake’s Corner Road, hosts an open house Saturday,
May 18, at 5:30 p.m. This "Enchanted Evening" will include
a tour of the gardens around the Manor House, music by Sandy Maxwell,
as well as a live and silent auction.
Following some aggressive fund raising that was advanced by a $1
challenge grant from the William E. Simon Foundation, Princeton
was able to pay off its entire mortgage earlier this year, celebrating
with a mortgage burning party last month. Now the academy is raising
money for a gym, library, classrooms, and a chapel and assembly area.
"It is wonderful to be able to put the money into these other
important things now that the mortgage is a thing of the past,"
says founding headmaster Olen Kalkus.
While single-sex schools may seem hopelessly anachronistic, they are
in fact making a comeback. Last week the Bush administration issued
a statement that they are planning to reinterpret the country’s
law to encourage the creation of single-sex public schools. The move
will allow such schools to receive federal financing, which has been
largely denied for the past 30 years.
"A lot of people think that all-boys schools went out with the
1970s," says Kalkus. "But we’re definitely not interested
in returning to the old mind set of the `old-boys, all-boys,’
While the tradition of single-gender schools had been strong in the
United States for over 200 years, the 1970s saw a push to take
schools and turn them into co-ed schools. "There was an
move toward equality of opportunity in the culture, and this included
education," says Kalkus. "In the 1970s, people believed that
everybody was a product of their environment. If you treated everybody
equal, they would all come out equal."
It wasn’t until the 1980s when it became acceptable
to look at gender differences again. "Psychologists looked at
biological, chemical, and hormonal differences and found that boys
and girls have real learning differences and therefore different
While much of the early research focused on the needs of girls, by
the 1990s some studies begin to focus primarily on boys. "People
sometimes forget that stereotypes can work against boys just as much
as girls. There have been innumerable studies that have shown that
boys and girls have different educational needs, particularly in the
early years. Our goal is to focus on these needs." Kalkus offers
the following data:
The average 11th grade boy reads at the level of the average eighth
scores in 1960, educational programs addressing this imbalance have
allowed girls to significantly close the gap. However boys continue
to lag behind girls in writing and language skills today, just as
they did 40 years ago.
in finer motor control.
and extra-curricular activities. The only area in which boys maintain
a significant advantage is in participation in sports.
the cultural stereotypes of their gender, but boys have not yet done
this," says Kalkus. "Schools, by-and-large, have done well
for girls. Most young women have gotten the message that it’s okay
to be nurturing, aggressive, assertive, athletic, artistic, whatever
they want to be. But boys are still trapped in the stereotype that
says athletics is where it’s at for them. The irony of the beginning
of the 21st century is that the idea of the renaissance man has really
become the renaissance woman."
Kalkus is familiar with the opposite side of the coin. Prior to coming
to Princeton Academy, he was the first male lay head of Saint
Academy, a 100-year-old, all-girls school in Canon City, Colorado.
"I was really the first non-nun head in the history of the
says Kalkus. "It was a great experience because it really allowed
me to understand the problems of education from a female
Kalkus also spent five years as upper school principal at the
School of Prague in the Czech Republic. "It was very interesting
for me," says Kalkus. "Both my parents are of Czech descent.
My father was put in prison by the Communists in his senior year of
high school in Prague. For me to go back to that country and help
build an international high school was very gratifying."
Kalkus’ parents escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1949 and he was born
in Chicago in 1955. Kalkus spent his last two years of high school
in an all-boys parochial school in Newport, Rhode Island. "It
closed shortly after I left," says Kalkus. "It was one of
those schools in the 1970s that the diocese closed due to a dropping
enrollment. But I did have that experience and it has helped give
me an added perspective." He earned his B.A. from Colby College
in 1976, an M.A. from Salve Regina College in 1980, and a M.Ed from
Columbia in 1989.
Kalkus now lives with his wife and three children in Law-renceville.
His daughter attends Stuart, and both his sons attend Princeton
"Having my sons at the school does give me that little extra
to make sure we don’t cut corners," says Kalkus. "That is
always the motive, but I think that people really understand that
if they hear that the headmaster’s boys are attending school here
Princeton Academy opened its doors in September, 1999, to 33 boys
in grades kindergarten through third grade. Since then they have grown
to a student population of 160 and expect to break the 200 mark next
September when they open the eighth grade class.
But Kalkus points out that while growth is certainly welcome, too
much growth is not. "We are committed to having no more than 16
students per classroom," he says. "I’m a big fan of small
schools. Research has shown that 500 students is about the point where
a community becomes an institution. We want to make sure we stay
Stuart Country Day School was established in 1963, providing a private
school faith-based education in which local residents could send their
daughters. But for many years, there was no comparable school for
Lawrenceville resident Tom Meagher, a Lawrenceville
resident who works at an intellectual property law firm in New York
City, decided to take matters into his own hands when it came time
to think about the education of his own two sons. "Back in the
mid 1990s, I was very aware of the research that showed that boys
needed a more hands-on, tactile approach to education when compared
to girls," says Meagher, who is now a member of the academy’s
board of trustees. "My wife and I were looking to send our kids
to a Catholic school that offered small class sizes. We liked the
idea of sending our daughters to Stuart, but there was no suitable
place to send our boys. I decided to try to do something about
Meagher discovered that Jim Radvany (who is also now a member of the
academy’s board of trustees) was another parent "in the same
He and I decided to send out letters to gauge how much interest there
might be for a boys’ school," says Meagher. "Stuart was very
helpful. We were able to send out letters to the entire Stuart family
population and got back a very enthusiastic response."
Princeton Academy was initially going to set up shop on a temporary
basis in Belle Mead at the Montgomery United Methodist Church while
board members searched for a more permanent site. But they ran into
a snag when they learned that the state’s procedure for determining
sewer capacity would limit the school’s enrollment to just 30
As an alternative, the school arranged to lease the basement of the
chapel of the former Our Lady of Princeton convent on Drake’s Corner
Road and the Great Road for two years from its owner, Princeton
LLC. Sam Fruscione, a principal of Princeton Lifestyles, had purchased
the 43-acre property for $6 million with the hope of building a
square foot continuing care retirement community. But neighbors
opposed the idea, forcing the developer to abandon his plans. The
Academy was eventually able to raise a down payment to purchase the
property for $8 million in December, 2000.
Kalkus estimates that the school population is 50 percent Catholic
and 50 percent non-Catholic. "Clearly our anchor is in
we make no apologies for that," he says. "But we have Jewish,
Hindu, and Muslim students here as well. We reach them all because
the core values of world religions are very similar and the
in religions are really very small. But there have always been men
willing to exploit these differences, creating wars and atrocities
in the name of religion throughout history."
Kalkus says that although the recent sexual abuse scandals involving
Catholic priests across the country and at the American Boychoir
in Princeton have made some parents edgy, he receives surprisingly
few questions. "After the articles on the Boychoir school
resurfaced in the New York Times, I had two parents ask me what are
we doing to insure that nothing like that ever happens here,"
says Kalkus. "We do a screening process of our faculty, but I
think all schools do that. The culture of the school is really
Having a small school and really keeping a close eye on how the
are growing and developing is the key."
Although Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart is not yet a certified
member of the Sacred Heart Network — a collection of schools
the country that subscribe to a mission statement of a "deep and
active faith in God; a deep respect for intellectual values; a social
awareness which impels to action; the building of community as a
value; Personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom" —
they do expect to successfully complete the accreditation process
"It’s just amazing how so many things came together to make this
school a reality, from getting this beautiful property that perfectly
suits our needs, to paying off the mortgage so quickly," says Kalkus.
"Friends say that I could write a `how to’ book on how to start
a school. But I think it would really have to be more like a novel,
telling how it all happened. Because it really has been just a
of everything, the right time, the right place, the right people,
all coming together and creating this school."
— Jack Florek
Corner Road, Princeton 08540. Olen Kalkus, headmaster. 609-921-6499;
fax, 609-921-9198. Home page: www.princetonacademy.org.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.