Tough N. J. Principal Who Saved School From ‘Thugs’ Balks at Board’s Restraints
On the office door of Eastside High School Principal Joe Clark is a sign that reads: “One Way--My Way.” A plaque on his desk states: “To err is human--to forgive is not my policy.”
Clark made his point with a tough crusade over the last six years that involved the dismissal of hundreds of students he deemed disruptive and the departure of scores of teachers he considered incompetent.
Now Clark’s job is on the line.
Threatens to Quit
Earlier this month, Clark said he and 14 of his 15 administrators would step down and let “the hoodlums and thugs . . . reclaim” the school unless the board gave him “full authority” to run the inner-city facility as he sees fit.
School Board President Judith Moran said, “No school board can give anyone carte blanche. There are laws to be followed and regulations we all have to live by.”
The showdown was prompted by the board’s ordering Clark this month to readmit 60 students he had expelled without “due process.” Clark said the students were disciplinary problems.
He was earlier forced to remove chains from school doors. Clark said exits needed to be secured to keep out drug pushers.
Clark stands on his record.
‘Caldron of Terror’
He transformed Eastside, labeled by prosecutors in 1979 as a “caldron of terror and violence,” into a respected school where classroom achievement replaced brawls and drug deals.
His tough-as-nails style has won him praise from many national figures, including President Reagan, and has made him the subject of a proposed Hollywood movie.
“I don’t know how this will work out. A lot of people support me. The nation supports me,” said Clark, 48, a fit and trim ex-Army sergeant who patrols hallways with a bullhorn, exhorting students to be orderly, neat and educated.
“Mr. Clark, you can’t leave us. We need you,” said Cyvonne Moore, 16, hugging the principal and expressing the sentiment of many of the school’s 3,000 students, nearly all blacks or Latinos and most from welfare families.
Clark, one of the first black school administrators in Paterson, grew up in nearby Newark and put himself through college by working nights.
In December, for the first time in Clark’s tenure, two teachers were assaulted. Clark said the alleged assailants were delinquents he had been forced to readmit.
The incidents helped drive an irate Clark to go on the school intercom.
“There have been two assaults on teachers as a result of doors being opened and as a result of the board of education directing me to let these leeches back . . . in, and I’m chagrined by that,” Clark said.
“These kids want discipline, and I give it to them,” Clark said. They (the school board) have to give me the authority to run this building. . . . If they don’t give me that authority, I’m (going to leave).”
Marilyn Martino, head of the school’s English department, replied: “If you go, a lot of people are (leaving) with you.”
Two years ago, the school board, in a special city referendum, was made an autonomous elected body, no longer appointed by the mayor. Since then, it has tried to impose controls on Clark, who previously had near-free rein.
Praised by Mayor
Frank Graves, mayor of this old mill town of 140,000 people, said, “Joe Clark raised Eastside from the pits and made it a recognized learning institution. But that doesn’t give him the authority to bend rules.”
The matter has prompted scores of people from Paterson and across the country to write Eastside and the school board, virtually all in support of Clark.
A letter from a resident in the low-income, drug-infested neighborhood that surrounds Eastside said: “The boys and girls look so smart on their way to school . . . instead of looking like they are on their way to a rumble.”