Joe Clark was a tough as nails high school principal who became infamous for wielding a bat and getting a disorderly New Jersey high school to function. Clark died on Tuesday (Dec. 29) after battling a long illness according to a statement.
A press release of Clark’s passing went wide on Tuesday announcing that the New Jersey native passed away in Gainesville, Fla. surrounding by his loved ones.
As shared in the press announcement, Joe Louis Clark, who was born in Georgia, came to New Jersey as a boy ahead of attending Newark Central High School then earned a bachelor’s degree from William Paterson College (now William Paterson University), and a master’s degree from Seton Hall University. Clark then enlisted into the U.S. Army Reserves, becoming a sergeant and drill instructor, using his time in the military to inform his teaching and administration style.
From the press release:
Committed to the pursuit of excellence, Clark greeted the challenges presented to him following his appointment as the Principal of crime and drug-ridden Eastside High School with eager optimism. In one day, he expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers, and drug possession and lifted the expectations of those that remained, continually challenging them to perform better. Roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, Clark’s unorthodox methods won him both admirers and critics nationwide. Steadfast in his approach, Clark explained that the bat was not a weapon but a symbol of choice: a student could either strike out or hit a home run.
Clark retired from Eastside High School in 1989, serving as the Director of Essex County Detention House in Newark. After leaving Eastside, Clark released a book, Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools, with Joe Picard.
The life of Clark and his transformation of Eastside High was depicted in the motion picture Lean On Me, starring Morgan Freeman in the lead role.
Joe Clark was 82.
High School Principal Joe Clark Has Died, Life Depicted In ‘Lean On Me’ Film was originally published on hiphopwired.com
RIP to the real Joe Clark who passed away at 82 🕊 pic.twitter.com/vJKVzpoTG5— 247 Live Culture (@247LC) December 30, 2020
Sorry to hear of the passing of Principal Joe Clark who was portrayed in the movie, Lean On Me by Morgan Freeman. I couldn't write my short tribute in 280 characters so I have attached it below. Rest in Peace Brother Principal Joe Clark. pic.twitter.com/BEjuJFNtfi— Principal Kafele (Baruti K. Kafele) (@PrincipalKafele) December 30, 2020
RIP to former principal of Eastside High in Paterson, NJ .. Joe Clark. Clark was the subject of the 1989 film Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman. He was known in the 1980s for his unconventional and controversial disciplinary measures as the principal of Eastside High. pic.twitter.com/oTmSu0c8bI— Ave (@SebastianAvenue) December 30, 2020
RIP JOE CLARK! pic.twitter.com/uNAjcsMbDs— CHUCK JIGSAW CREEKMUR (@chuckcreekmur) December 30, 2020
Joe Clark – who rose to national prominence as principal of Paterson's Eastside High School and was the inspiration of the 1989 film "Lean on Me" – dedicated his life to educating New Jersey's youth. He will be missed. https://t.co/j7X9z5nl1Q— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) December 30, 2020
The HNIC was one of my first Morgan Freeman favorites RIP Joe Clark pic.twitter.com/MGc0F7NUwo— THE #1 STUNNA (@bigstush) December 30, 2020
To Mr. Joe Clark - Farewell and fly high! Thank you for planting the seed of education in so many! “We sink, we swim, we rise, we fall - We meet our fate together.” - Mr. Clark 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/cui0juj5IP— Lindsay Sharp (@LPSharpD300) December 30, 2020
As a child, I remember “Lean on Me” making a huge impact on me. This movie impacted me so much that I wanted to become a principal. I looked up to Mr. Joe Clark as a role model and admired his unorthodox methods in caring for children and his community. RIP to an icon. pic.twitter.com/AAdfWrSV9G— Corey Collington (@MrCCollington78) December 30, 2020
RIP to the most badass principal in the history of American public education Joe Clark pic.twitter.com/GBj9oHpVEm— Big Mike The Man (@MykeXTheRebel) December 30, 2020
Joe Clark, whose discipline-first leadership of a Paterson, NJ high school earned national attention in the 1980s and inspired the movie "Lean on Me," passed away this week at 82. From a September 1986 profile on the NBC newsmagazine American Almanac: pic.twitter.com/ygVKm4shCr— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) December 30, 2020
RIP Joe Clark. Seeing Lean On Me as a kid was a life-altering. Will sing Fair Eastside tonight in your memory.— Paul Cantor (@PaulCantor) December 30, 2020