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Academic Hourglass

English High School in Boston is the oldest public school in America, as well as one of the most prestigious, having graduated the likes of J.P. Morgan and Leonard Nimoy. But now it's facing closure by the state if its students' achievement doesn't improve this year.

Today English has a 25 percent senior dropout rate, the worst student retention rate of Boston’s high schools, and the second-worst test scores. In an effort salvage the school, the state has given current headmaster José Duarte—along with the threat of closure—an extra $1.2 million in funding, greater freedom to adjust the curriculum and class sizes, and the authority to make faculty appointments.

In turn, Duarte replaced a third of his staff, in some cases hiring younger, less experienced teachers to take their place. He has also implemented some rather unorthodox staff training, including a "ropes course" to encourage team building and lectures about physical appearance and classroom cleanliness. Duarte’s concerted efforts to save his school and his career are reflected in what has become the educator’s mantra in recent months: “I cannot fail.”

Will English make its deadline? To find out, keep an eye on the The Boston Globe, which plans to cover the school's progress over the next year.

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