Karen Melendez-Hutt once presided over a fine success story. Early last decade, she became principal of Public School 30 in East Harlem, a school on the critical care list, The New York Times reports.

Scores had spiraled downward. Families felt trapped. The end appeared in sight. She won grants to pull in counselors, and tutored children at lunchtime, during recess, on Saturdays. Test scores rose. The school earned A’s on progress reports. Then her staff proposed to renovate the playground, a vast expanse of asphalt fissured.

The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, gave $180,000 in 2010 for the renovation. “I called...

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staff and wire services reports