MAR 27 1988; Clark, Joe - Principal G.W High School;

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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.

Photo: Getty

High School Principal Joe Clark Has Died, Life Depicted In ‘Lean On Me’ Film  was originally published on