Arlington's new school superintendent, Charles E. Nunley, is a man with thinning hair, laughing eyes and a sense of humor.

He is also not afraid to use a cliche or two when he feels it is appropriate.

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," replied the 52-year-old Nunley drily this week to a reporter's question at a press conference in Arlington about whether all school personnel -- from custodians to principals -- ought to be forced to take a human relations course. "Few things are so urgent that they have to be mandated."

Nunley later added, however, that he was pleased to see that budget cuts this year left intact the position of human relations director.

What Nunley was doing, of course, was what any public official who does not take office until July 1 would do when being asked tough and sensitive questions -- make a noncommittal answer and promise to look into the matter.

When asked about the possibility of closing schools because of declining enrollments, Nunley replied: "I don't believe in wasting the taxpayers' money and I don't believe in using a building if there is no use for the facility. But the taxpayers have to decide if they want to keep the schools open."

On discipline in the schools, Nunley said: "I consider myself a strict disciplinarian . . . but I believe there's a difference between a good system of discipline and a system of punishment."

When questioned about his views on teacher pay, a bone of contention between teachers and Nunley in the Lorain, Ohio, school district where he currently is superintendent, Nunley left little room for discussion: "I think they ought to be well paid."

But in reply to a question on the rising cost of living, Nunley implied that teachers ought to bite the bullet like other workers: "I don't believe that any one group should be singled out . . . to stay ahead of inflation."

Nunley defended a controversial reduction-in-force program he instituted in Lorain (and which resulted in two teachers' strikes) by telling reporters that the move actually saved the school system from disaster.

"I knew we had to stick with it (the RIF program) or bankrupt the system," Nunley said. "And I don't believe a school system should go bankrupt."

On the probability of making such a move in Arlington, Nunley said: "What we're now faced with is a more mature staff." Then he added with a grin."How do you like that as a way to refer to an aging staff?"

Nunley ended the press conference by telling reporters he was on his way to a meeting with representatives of the Arlingtron Education Association -- the county's largest teachers' group. The meeting, according to AEA leaders, was held at Nunley's request and was basically a "get-acquainted" affair.

"We didn't get any great thunderbolt of information," said Sue Rafferty, the newly elected AEA president, who conceded she was apprehensive about the new superintendent -- but no more so then she would be about any person hired to fill the slot. "I don't think we came away with any strong impressions."