Sad news to report as we close out 2020. Joe Clark, the New Jersey high school principal who famously used a bullhorn and baseball bat to round his students into shape has passed away. Joe Clark and his unconventional methods of discipline were the subject of the inspirational 1989 film “Lean On Me” starring Morgan Freeman as Clark.
Joe Clark passed away earlier today after his battle with a long illness at his home in Gainesville, Florida, where he retired following his legendary educational career. His family confirmed the news of his passing, however his illness was not disclosed.
Soon after taking over as head of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, Joe Clark expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers and drug possession — in one day — and challenged the kids that remained to perform better.
“I don’t just categorically extirpate young people out of school, but I am categorically emphatic that we cannot any longer condone hooliganism, aberrant behavior and deviant behavior in those schools,” Clark said in an interview at the time. “I’m convinced that young people, the vast majority, deserve the right to an environment that’s conducive to learning.”
In a 1989 interview, Morgan Freeman called him a “charismatic magician” and noted that during the making of the film, the educator “got up in front of the students and said, ‘You know, they’re going to be making the picture, and we are the stars. So let’s give them every help we can.’ And by George, that’s what they did.”
Joe Clark is survived by his three children: Joetta Clark Diggs, a four-time Olympic track athlete; Hazel Clark, a three-time Olympian and now director of sports business development for the Bermuda Tourism Authority; and Joe Clark Jr., director of track and field and cross country at Stanford University; and his grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell and Hazel.
We send our thoughts and prayers to his family.