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Famous New Jersey Principal Joe Clark Dies At 82

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Joe Clark has died. In the 1980s, Clark made a name for himself as a no-nonsense principal at Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine. President Reagan praised him. And Morgan Freeman portrayed Clark as an inspirational leader in the film "Lean On Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LEAN ON ME")

MORGAN FREEMAN: (As Joe Clark) You are not inferior.

(CHEERING)

CHANG: Joe Clark's leadership tactics range from traditional forms of school discipline - detention, suspensions, expulsions - to the unconventional. In a 1988 profile on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Clark is heard walking the hallways of Eastside, bullhorn in hand, approaching students like the former Army drill sergeant he was.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROACAST)

JOE CLARK: Look alive please. You look half-dead today.

CHANG: His methods were controversial. He kept a Louisville Slugger in his office and said he would use it to chase away drug dealers who would harass students on campus. He padlocked the doors to the school to prevent people from coming in and disrupting class - that is, until the fire department said he couldn't do that because it's unsafe. Still, supporters claim Clark's methods worked, pointing to a rise in SAT scores at Eastside under his watch.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Clark also courted controversy, at one point using race as a way to explain what he considered the problems at his majority Black and Hispanic school.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROACAST)

CLARK: Lethargy, stagnation, indifference and my own people - Blacks - the welfare, the whole system that perpetuates leeches and...

CORNISH: Clark's solution was to expel the students he felt were dragging down test scores, some 300 in his first year. He had older students who didn't have the credits to graduate transferred out of Eastside. The county school board forced Clark to readmit them, saying he had kicked them out illegally.

CHANG: Critics say he prioritized order over education and that Clark publicly humiliated students, faculty and parents. In that 1988 ALL THINGS CONSIDERED profile, one former teacher at the school said Eastside had become more like a gulag or a concentration camp than a public high school.

CORNISH: Others have said Clark's methods and philosophies reinforced racism. Here's what Malika Abdullah (ph), who had two kids at Eastside, told NPR at the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROACAST)

MALIKA ABDULLAH: The frightening thing is - is that he's really doing the white bigots America's bidding by using this baseball bat and this bullhorn in this Black and Hispanic community to say that this is the way to keep Black people in line, and this is why I think they're playing it up.

CHANG: Clark left Eastside in 1989. He published a book called "Laying Down The Law." And later, he took a job as director of a youth correctional facility in New Jersey. There, he was criticized by state officials for restraining and shackling his wards. He retired in 2002, saying state regulations prevented him from managing the facility the way he wanted.

CORNISH: Joe Clark died on Tuesday. According to a family press release, he was 82.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY AND DAVID WINGO'S "DEAR MADISON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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