Mr. Alonso, paraphrasing race car driver Mario Andretti, adopted as his mantra the notion that if you feel totally in control, you're not going fast enough. Indeed, Baltimore's schoolchildren have only one chance to get an education, and Mr. Alonso felt keenly that they could not wait for the adults who run the school system to get it right. Upon his arrival here six years ago, he began a radical decentralization of a system that had grown top-heavy, sending money and autonomy to principals while cutting the North Avenue headquarters staff by a third. He closed schools that were failing and opened new, better ones. He made teachers, principals and other administrators responsible for personally contacting students who had dropped out and urging them to come back. He reduced out-of-school suspensions and established an alternative school on North Avenue. He expanded school choice, embraced charter schools and hammered out a landmark teacher contract that will link pay with growth in student performance.