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

pre-feminism

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

million

challenge grant from the William E. Simon Foundation, Princeton

Academy

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

education

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,’

network."

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

single-gender

schools and turn them into co-ed schools. "There was an

understandable

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

educational

requirements."

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:

Boys continue to lag behind girls in reading and verbal skills.

The average 11th grade boy reads at the level of the average eighth

grade girl.

Research shows that while girls trailed boys in math and science

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.

Boys rate highly at gross motor skills, but they trail girls

in finer motor control.

Girls have caught up and passed boys in areas of student

leadership

and extra-curricular activities. The only area in which boys maintain

a significant advantage is in participation in sports.

"To a large extent, girls have been able to break through

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

Scholastica

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

school,"

says Kalkus. "It was a great experience because it really allowed

me to understand the problems of education from a female

perspective."

Kalkus also spent five years as upper school principal at the

International

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

Academy.

"Having my sons at the school does give me that little extra

incentive

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

as well."

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

behind

that line."

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

boys.

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

it."

Meagher discovered that Jim Radvany (who is also now a member of the

academy’s board of trustees) was another parent "in the same

predicament.

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

students.

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

Lifestyles

LLC. Sam Fruscione, a principal of Princeton Lifestyles, had purchased

the 43-acre property for $6 million with the hope of building a

628,000

square foot continuing care retirement community. But neighbors

vehemently

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

Catholicism,

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

differences

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

School

in Princeton have made some parents edgy, he receives surprisingly

few questions. "After the articles on the Boychoir school

incidents

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

important.

Having a small school and really keeping a close eye on how the

students

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

across

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

Christian

value; Personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom" —

they do expect to successfully complete the accreditation process

soon.

"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

confluence

of everything, the right time, the right place, the right people,

all coming together and creating this school."

— Jack Florek

Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, 101 Drake’s

Corner Road, Princeton 08540. Olen Kalkus, headmaster. 609-921-6499;

fax, 609-921-9198. Home page: www.princetonacademy.org.

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This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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