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Bullhorn-Toting Principal Who Inspired 1989 Film Has Died

Joe Clark was 82
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 30, 2020 9:04 AM CST

(Newser) – Joe Louis Clark, the baseball bat and bullhorn-wielding principal whose unwavering commitment to his students and uncompromising disciplinary methods inspired the 1989 film Lean on Me, died at his Florida home on Tuesday after a long battle with an unspecified illness, his family said in statement. He was 82. Clark started teaching at a grade school in Essex County, NJ, before becoming principal of PS 6 Grammar School. He was later hired as principal of the crime and drug-ridden Eastside High School in Paterson, reports the AP. In one day, he expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, abusing teachers, and drug possession, and lifted the expectations of those who remained, continually challenging them to perform better.

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Roaming the hallways with a bullhorn and a baseball bat, Clark’s unorthodox methods won him both admirers and critics nationwide. President Ronald Reagan offered Clark a White House policy adviser position after his success at the high school. Morgan Freeman starred as Clark in the 1989 film that was loosely based on Clark's tenure at Eastside. After he retired from Eastside in 1989, Clark worked for six years as the director of Essex County Detention House, a juvenile detention center in Newark. He also wrote Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools, detailing his methods for turning around Eastside High. He retired to Gainesville, Fla.

(Read more obituary stories.)

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