For years, this city had one of the worst school systems in the country. Fewer than half its students graduated, enrollment had fallen precipitously and proficiency levels were far below the national average, reports the New York Times. In 2007, the school board hired Andres Alonso, a Cuban immigrant with a Harvard degree and strong views on how to change things. In three years, he pushed through a sweeping reorganization of the school system, closing failing schools, slashing the central office staff by a third and replacing three-quarters of all school principals.

Not everyone likes Dr. Alonso’s methods, and many find...

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staff and wire services reports