Mary Skipper will begin the job as Boston's next school superintendent on Sept. 26, and she knows the transition will not be easy.

The district's less-than-stellar performance in a state audit this spring necessitated an agreement between Boston Public Schools and the state to make rapid improvements in staffing, infrastructure, and transportation. A recent poll of parents showed rising dissatisfaction with the schools.

On an appearance on Boston Public Radio this Thursday, she talked about the challenges she faces in the new job, and how the beginning of the year is going.

On the new job

Skipper said she believes that focusing on building a strong foundation is the first step to make the system function effectively, and that innovation can follow.

“I think the blueprint that we're moving back to in terms of priorities are what we would consider fundamental," she said. "It's going to take a while before we earn the right to start layering a lot of innovation and trying different things. We need to really get back to basics for systems and structures, for our schools and for our families and students."

As for what qualifies her to implement these foundations, particularly as the fourth BPS Superintendent to take on the job in a decade, she said her experience in the system as a teacher and administrator during an era when it functioned more effectively sets her apart.

“I'm familiar with the systems,” she said. “I'm familiar with what worked. I served in the BPS at times when there was stability of leadership, when we did get good student outcomes, when systems and structures were working.”

Academic performance, social-emotional learning and student safety are among her top priorities, she said. Family and community engagement and district accountability are also key to her agenda. She emphasized in particular the district's accountability around its agreement with the state and deadlines that have been set for improvements for special education and low-income students.

“I think we're in agreement between the city, ourselves and the state on what some of the systems are that you need to be paying the most attention to,” she said. “I think what was outlined in the [agreement] is something that's concrete. You know, it has deliverable dates, it has accountability for us and we intend to fulfill and exceed it.”

Skipper said colleges and universities, philanthropic groups and nonprofits can all play a role in helping BPS function better.

On buses and transit

Despite seeing a traditionally poor on-time arrival rate for buses on the first day, and the myriad of transit issues facing the city, on-time arrivals are better than she expected. She also pointed out that school bus on-time arrival times are on par with last year's, despite the MBTA shutdown of the Orange Line and the added traffic it created.

“Given the amount of shuttles that are on the road, given that the Orange Line has not yet reopened, it is pretty amazing that our data is comparable to last year in the on-time arrival," she said. And unlike last year, she said the number of routes without school bus service fell to zero on Thursday.

On diversity in the superintendent search

Skipper comes on the job following a candidate search that was criticized for a lack of diversity. The two final candidates were white in a district that is nearly 85% students of color.

In response to a question about the lack of diversity in the superintendent search, Skipper emphasized her commitment to serving Black and Latino students and making educational equity a key priority.

“This is the work,” she said. “It's hearing the hard truths, being willing to take those on and to make changes that sometimes might not be popular.”

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.