Corrections or additions?
This article by Jamie Saxon was prepared for the September 3, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Modern-Day 1-Room Schools
by Jamie Saxon
Big is bad. Big schools have big problems; small
have small problems," says Francesco Perrulli, headmaster and
founder of Princeton Science Academy.
"Small is better," says Arthur Poulos, principal and founder
of SciCore Academy of Science and the Humanities.
But these two private high schools, opening their doors in September,
are not getting attention simply because they are small — even
though they are very small: Princeton Science Academy has a mere four
students in its incoming freshman class, and SciCore has 13.
Rather both academies are putting a remarkable spin on the traditional
prep school experience. They are a radical departure from the typical
blueblood stomping ground for trust fund kids.
First, both are founded on the belief that high-quality private
should be affordable to the middle class. SciCore costs just $6,000
a year; Princeton Science Academy costs $13,000 — a fraction of
the tuitions of Hun, Peddie, Princeton Day, and Lawrenceville, which
run from $21,000 to $23,000 a year for day students.
Second, offering a rigorous core curriculum of science, math, history,
philosophy, and literature with no electives, Princeton Science
and SciCore are 21st century one-room schoolhouses, a throwback to
the days when school was, well, just school, and there were no
football games, or productions of "Grease." Princeton Science
Academy is housed in one small building on the campus of Princeton
Latin Academy, the private K-8 school Perrulli founded in 1988 —
the "winter tenant" of the upscale Rambling Pines Day Camp
in Hopewell, which itself was originally a school.
"What is a school?" asks Perrulli. "A school is a teacher,
a student, and a book. The rest is all frills." The school’s motto
is mens et materia — Latin for mind and matter. "I’m
starting this school for intellectual pursuit."
SciCore’s "campus" is a 1,750 square foot
space in Hightstown, refurbished into one large lecture room, a
room, a multi-purpose laboratory, a library/seminar room, and an
area. "What is the requirement that there be a campus?" says
Poulos, 52, a former Rutgers chemistry professor and consultant.
go to an office building every day. And there are one-room
in Africa. We need to think creatively." When parents question
the school’s lack of a campus, Poulos archly counters by asking,
well does your daughter write or speak? How well did she do on the
PSAT? Does she know the role of James Madison? Can she solve an
Poulos proclaims that we have "lost track about the most important
thing about being in school" — the school part. At SciCore,
every student takes the same core curriculum, "a stamp of
and of essentials." The name SciCore itself "was a fusion
of science in a general way with the core curriculum; an idea which
is very dear to my heart."
Similarly, at Princeton Science Academy, all students follow the same
curriculum — the morning is devoted to literature, history,
and philosophy; the afternoon is devoted to science and math.
"We are in the age of math madness, math insanity, everyone’s
anxious about math," says Perrulli, 65, the son of Italian immigrants
in Jersey City, where his father ran an oil delivery business and
his mother stayed at home raising six children. Perrulli, now an
priest, was ordained with a doctorate in theology in 1964 from
(the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America), worked in the hills
of Chile with local cowboys and farmers, setting up clinics and
"I rode my horse and visited the sick. I delivered babies, lots
of them named Francesco, after me."
Later he started a school in New York to teach hotel employees
while attending NYU to earn masters degrees in both English
and Spanish literature. He taught briefly at a New York Catholic high
school, then came to Princeton and started the fine languages
at Princeton Day School in 1982, before founding Princeton Latin
Perrulli admonishes the typical approach of teaching math and science
as separate entities. "Mathematics is the beginning of science.
The transistor could not exist until some mathematician abstractly
formulated the necessary relationship of numbers." Students at
the Academy are taught "about the scientists and the history of
science to inspire them to become future scientists." The school’s
website proclaims, "A student is truly educated only when he can
relate one branch of knowledge to another and grasp not only difficult
concepts, but the historical development of those concepts as
Whereas most high school students study only one science a year —
generally biology, chemistry, and physics, students at Princeton
Academy will study four sciences every year for all four years:
with astronomy, chemistry, and biology. "I’m not worried about
[not having] big labs, etc.," says Perrulli. "Science exists
in the mind: Einstein did not put his hands on the stars —
Newton did not need a government grant to discover optics."
says the school’s mission "is to restore the place of mathematics
and science into its proper place for the silent minority of children
who are interested in it but are not encouraged [at other
He is deeply critical of the way most schools rush through science
textbooks. "What typically happens is this: It takes
of the year to cover 40 percent of the book, then they rush through
the remainder in a month. The only thing they covered was their
At the Academy, he explains, there is no rushing. "We finish
The very meaning of curriculum comes from `curro,’ which means to
flow uninterrupted, so a curriculum is a river and the children are
in a boat somewhere in the river. I row to wherever they are and get
in their boat and help them start rowing."
SciCore’s Poulos criticizes the textbooks themselves. "Textbooks
are the bedrock of the academic experience." He notes that
produced by the major publishing houses very often "read like
they were written by committee — they probably were; they have
far too many pictures and too little text; the reading levels are
generally one or two years below par; and they may be littered with
irrelevant or one-sided political and social messages." He says
that SciCore has made every effort to identify high-quality
works by excellent scholars," and the instructors, 60 percent
of whom hold Ph.D.s, use original sources whenever possible.
Both Perrulli and Poulos are passionate advocates of education reform
in this country (Perrulli’s other soapbox is an organization he
called EAST, Educators Against Standardized Testing), and both believe
that reform must begin by educating parents — about their kids’
"We have to educate the parents of New Jersey," says Poulos.
"I say, `Parents of America, put your foot down. Get off these
irrelevancies’," referring to the mentality that high school is
all about friends and socializing and computer clubs. "When a
parent says to me, `But my son wants to be with his friends,’ I say,
`He can be with his friends after three o’clock’."
Princeton Science Academy’s Perrulli is highly critical of parents
today, whom he calls "a whining generation." He claims that
"parents do not want their kids to suffer," and thus they
do not discipline their children, and they don’t assume responsibility
for parenting. The result? "Our kids have turned into a bunch
of wimps. Kids love me because I wake them up."
He abhors the way parents try to step in between the teacher and
"The moment you step between the teacher and the child, you have
destroyed the relationship. Parents have to get out of their kids’
heads. I say to students, `I only want you in your head.’ True
comes when the child’s mind is focused and geared to learn; that is
the job of the teacher."
Perrulli routinely sees parents confused by their role in their
education, and he tries to explain his philosophy by telling them
that parents are responsible for children as children; teachers are
responsible for children as students. "Children aren’t students
until they come to my school. I teach them how to become students.
I appeal to working class parents who want their kids to become
He is so adamant about his approach that he founded the Princeton
Latin Academy as a for-profit enterprise. "I am a small business
man with a gift for education, and I don’t want a board of
He explains that most private schools are headed up by a
of headmaster, teachers, and a board of trustees, with the headmaster
at the bottom of the triangle. "I became the headmaster at the
top of the triangle. I am a private enterprise. Thank God in America,
you can do whatever you want to do."
"I think New Jersey education leaves a lot to be desired,"
says SciCore’s Poulos, who is especially critical of what he calls
"non-course courses" — the "plethora" of electives
that he believes derails students from a constructive high school
education. "Two different students can end up taking two different
tracks — you don’t end up with a core curriculum." He is
that, in some schools, the number of physical education credits equals
the number of English credits, and the requirements for science are
less than for English.
"History," he continues, "is in terrible shape." He
cites the findings of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an
education reform think tank in Washington, D.C., which scored school
curricula across the country on a scale of 0 to 50, with 50 being
the highest. "New Jersey received a zero rating with respect to
history," says Poulos. "Virginia got a 44. [In New Jersey]
it’s as if history is ignored. It’s put into a big blob called `social
studies,’ a mixture of the entire kitchen sink — a little film,
a little psychology."
He adds that American high school students are doing
very poorly not only in history, but also in civics, and in writing.
"Students cannot put sentences together. That’s a major
At SciCore, the first course of the first semester is writing, and
writing courses continue through all four years. Freshmen also take
classes in speaking, logic, and debate.
Poulos, a Duke graduate, Class of 1973, earned his doctorate in
from Northwestern and a post-doc in photochemistry from the University
of California, Santa Cruz. A self-proclaimed "chem jock,"
he says his passion for science started when he received a chemistry
kit for a Christmas present at age five. He grew up in Denville, New
Jersey, where his father ran a dairy farm and his mother was an
school teacher. Now the father of four (two girls and two boys, aged
12, 8, 6, and 1), Poulos became concerned about education at the high
school level. He got the idea for SciCore after meeting retired
Russell Long of Louisiana, the eldest son of Huey Long. Russell Long
had spearheaded the establishment of the Louisiana School for Science
and the Arts, a state-funded school for the gifted and talented,
he felt the state needed to retain its better students and keep them
interested in academic pursuits.
Neither school is likely to stray far from its core curriculum. Both
Perrulli and Poulos agree that morality, while a tenet of their
academic philosophies, begins at home. "In public school, sex
ed, PE, and other things fill up the schedule, extraneous to
pursuit," says Perrulli. "Kids should get morality and sex
ed from family and churches."
Princeton Science Academy is nondenominational but theology is offered
after school. "We do not ignore religion. The greatest
philosophical question of all time is forbidden in public school:
`Who is God?’ So we teach the history of philosophy. It’s part of
knowledge. Everything is allowed to be examined in our school."
"We do not want to mess around with the moral standards of the
family," says SciCore’s Poulos. "We especially encourage
to conduct moral training; it’s not our business." But at the
same time he explains that his academic approach, while
embraces certain "non-theistic" positive virtues like
fairness, charity, and treating others well — values within the
Judeo-Christian tradition. "When you look back at the religious
tradition, there is a sense of fairness, that you have a conscience
which dictates a certain right and wrong. Look to the tradition
[which says] `I am not the sole arbiter of what I do with my life.’
Let us not throw out the moral code of yesterday because it’s today;
it’s an effective guide."
So how can parents decide if SciCore or Princeton Science Academy
is right for their child? Poulos has long conversations with
parents, letting them look over the textbooks and the curriculum,
which are also available on the school’s website. The decision is
a big one, he admits. "How do you decide to buy a car or a house?
It is a judgment call. I encourage parents to compare it to what their
child has had before. They have to use their intuition."
Poulos is positively fervent about the "small is better"
noting that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is now giving money
to schools with a maximum enrollment of 16 and has established grants
to start small high schools in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco,
Chicago, and other cities. SciCore’s freshman class is limited to
16 total (if 17 students enroll, he will split the class in two);
the 13 students enrolled so far come from a 15-mile radius. Over the
next three years he will sequentially add a sophomore, junior, and
Perrulli has four students enrolled to date, two boys and two girls;
three are graduates of Princeton Latin Academy who in fact asked him
to start a high school, one is new to the school.
SciCore’s Poulos admits his school "is not a big money-making
operation" and says that restricting the school to a core
"really helps the financial picture." He may have trimmed
the operation down to Sartre and Socrates, but he hasn’t thrown every
"frill" out — for PE, SciCore students will head down
the street to a local karate school.
www.princetonlatinacademy.com Open house Sunday, September 21, noon
to 2 p.m.
Street, Hightstown, 609-426-8900, www.scicore.org. Open house Monday,
October 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.