Lean on Me highlighted Joe Clark's revolutionary career as principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, which began in 1982.
A former Army drill instructor, Clark sees education as a mission. He thwarts those who believe that the learning process is disrupted by tough discipline. Instead of offering sympathy, Clark held high expectations for his students, challenging them to develop habits for success and confronting them when they failed to reform.
On a single day during his first week at Eastside High School, Clark expelled 300 students for fighting, vandalism, drug possession, profanity or abusing teachers. He explains, "If there is no discipline, no learning can take place. Without discipline, there is anarchy. Good citizenship demands attention to responsibilities as well as rights."
After two years of his leadership, the formerly raucous institution was declared a model school by New Jersey's governor. Clark himself was named one of the nation's ten "Principals of Leadership" in 1986.
Clark earned his bachelor's degree from William Paterson College and went on to be a master's candidate at Seton Hall University.
After seven years as principal of Eastside High School, he resigned in 1990 and began sharing his message as a speaker on the country's lecture circuit.
Clark's latest crusade began in 1995, when he was appointed director of the Essex County Youth House, a juvenile detention center in Newark, New Jersey. He says he accepted this challenging position because he wants to affect change and because he is committed to Newark, where he grew up. "I will stay until I have brought about change," Clark said. "I can't think of anything more noble."
Through his book Laying Down the Law, his speeches and his activities as director of the Essex County Youth House, Clark shares his strategies and success stories with teachers, school boards, parents, business owners and students. His message is one of pride in self. He believes that "every day, pride in self and school must be reinforced. Every day, the value of academics must be demonstrated." And every day, Joe Clark demonstrates, through his own example, how commitment to youth can make America's future leaders better citizens and better people.