IRIS METTS didn't waste a minute tackling her challenge as the new superintendent of Prince George's County schools. Ticking off the major, complex problems dogging the county's school system, Ms. Metts vowed to produce results. Voluntarily, she tied part of her future earnings directly to her performance. "I believe in accountability," she said after the county school board named her to take over next month. Given the immediate scope of her mission, she is putting herself to a great test; certainly she will be under intense scrutiny.

Asked about student performance, the superintendent stated flatly, "There is no excuse for not improving achievement." To residents who have heard more than their share of such excuses from officials over the years, that's a good start; now the shot clock starts clicking. The superintendent's self-imposed performance test calls for quick results in five areas: improving test scores, decreasing the disturbing number of provisionally certified teachers, closing gaps between academic performances of black and white students, effecting other improvements sought by the board and upgrading the system's technology.

Nothing new here, yet much to do in short order. For starters, the system must hire 1,400 teachers by mid-August. The county has the highest percentage of uncertified teachers in Maryland. Cutting that number while hustling madly for recruits will be no breeze. School construction can't wait, either; the system must build 13 new neighborhood schools in the next six years. Prince George's has the second-lowest average exam scores in Maryland, prompting threats of a state takeover of a dozen schools. All this must be meshed with other changes necessitated by the system's transition from court-ordered busing to neighborhood schools, and with recommendations of a state-ordered independent audit group.

The leader of this group, Artis Hampshire-Cowan, has noted that the improvement of schools cannot be "a one-person job." The first measure of Ms. Metts's strengths and style, said Ms. Hampshire-Cowan, will be the new superintendent's selection of top assistants. Her choices should indicate whether it will be "business as usual" or forward motion in Prince George's schools.