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Joe Clark (1938–2020), principal who inspired “Lean on Me”

by Linnea Crowther

Joe Clark was the former principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, who inspired the 1989 film “Lean on Me.”

Unorthodox methods

Clark became known for his unusual disciplinary methods as principal, which included walking the school’s hallways carrying a baseball bat and a bullhorn. He expelled hundreds of students who were troublemakers or frequently tardy and absent, insisting on a culture of respect toward teachers and learning. Though Clark’s unorthodox methods brought criticism, they did result in a modest increase in test scores and were hailed by some as a success and an inspiration. Clark was featured on the cover of Time magazine and invited onto TV shows including “60 Minutes,” and in 1989, Morgan Freeman portrayed him in the hit movie “Lean on Me.” In later years, Clark worked as the director of a New Jersey juvenile detention facility.

Tributes to Joe Clark

Full obituary: NJ.com

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