The first of three public forums to select new members for the Fairfax County School Board took place last week in the cafeteria of Oakton High School.

It was a night when the school system was alternately damned and praised. An evening where everything from smoking in the schools to horse manure was discussed.

On the makeshift stage sat county Supervisor James Scott (D-Providence) -- who would ultimately reappoint his current school board appointee -- flanked on either side by two candidates: school board member Ann H. Kahn and Falls Church attorney Stephen Armstrong.

Scott, who pioneered public involvement in Fairfax County appointments, outlined the rules of the debate: eight minutes for each candidate to address the audience, then a question and answer session with the public, and finally, a two-minute summary.

Judging by applause, the 75-member audience was divided in their support for the candidates at the beginning of the meeting, but by the conclusion, most were obviously in Kahn's corner.

Armstrong clearly hoped to capitalize on the anger of some parents about the board's recent decision to close seven elementary schools, yet the number of parents at the meeting concerned with school closings seemed small.

Two schools in Kahn's area were closed -- Devonshire and Walnut Hill.

"I am opposed to school closings," said Armstrong as he rose from the stage and paced in front of the audience. "There is a more important factor than just dollars.

"There is the psychological and social impact. These are children, not chairs that you warehouse."

During Kahn's address she rose from her seat and spoke to the audience about the changes which have taken place during her seven years on the school board and the accomplishments of the schools.

"I have a sense of pride in the school system," Kahn said.

She added that, due in part to actions of the board, the teacher unrest which had plagued the county had been eased this past year. Kahn added that another reason she hoped to stay on the board was to see what the new superintendent would do with the charge he received from the board: ". . . to develop a management team which involves everyone."

The next day, Scott announced his decision to reappoint Kahn.

Two other public forums, for the Annandale and Mount Vernon Districts, are scheduled later this month.