School Board May Fire ‘Lean on Me’s’ Clark

Times Staff Writer

The Paterson, N.J., School Board will vote today on whether to fire Joe Clark, the controversial high school principal whose story is told in the current film “Lean on Me.”

Clark, 49, is on a week’s self-imposed suspension from his duties at Eastside High School stemming from a Feb. 15 incident in which scantily-clad dancers stripped down to G-strings at a school assembly.

Clark, who OK’d the appearance by the touring dance troupe that presents its revue at a number of other area schools and had visited Eastside twice before, was in California promoting his film at the time of the performance.

“Someone had to take the heat,” Clark said in a telephone interview. “But they wanted a head on a platter, so I gave them two buckets of blood. Now it’s time to get back to business as usual.”


But Paterson officials may not allow Clark to resume business.

The city council voted 5-4 Tuesday to recommend that the school board oust Clark, who, the council members contend, has become too involved in publicizing the film and in “outside interests,” according to Vinnie Fusco, Clark’s manager.

Clark, who said he has missed only 15 days since he took over at Eastside in 1982, is angry at city officials.

“I have not done anything to precipitate such an outlandish and bombastic attack,” Clark said. “I think probably they’re nothing but little putative warped midget minds who simply are envious and jealous and trying to gain some national attention predicated upon my national reputation.”

Paterson Mayor Frank X. Graves Jr. took out an advertisement Monday in a local paper blasting Clark for allowing the semi-clad dancers to perform at the school and for his use of multisyllabic words. “We need you to give us words that we all understand and not have to run the dictionary and find out what you said,” the mayor said in the ad.

Graves also asked Clark to concentrate on his administrative duties at the school. “Your continued absence cannot be tolerated,” Graves said. “We need you in school.”