A varied field of six challengers is shuttling around the tree-lined residential streets, litter-strewn business districts and barren housing projects of Ward 8 in far Southeast, angling to knock off the sometimes irascible incumbent school board member from the ward, R. Calvin Lockridge, in the Nov. 3 election.

The major issue in the ward contest, expressed with varying degrees of subtlety by the challengers, is Lockridge.

Lockridge is a former president of the school board. His work this year as chairman of the board's finance committee, juggling programs and personnel to offset cutbacks in funds, was highly regarded. He has plenty of political savvy, and as an incumbent is well-known in the ward.

But his opponents hope to capitalize on the more negative aspects of his image: Calvin Lockridge, the maverick who has fought a series of well-publicized battles with Mayor Marion Barry, with former school superintendent Vincent E. Reed, and with other members of the board.

The challengers are stressing ability to cooperate, to get along with school administrators, to maneuver in orthodox ways to get things done.

Lockridge chuckles and defends his record. He has plastered his campaign signs all over the ward, has sent out thousands of pieces of mail from the ad-hoc campaign headquarters he has set up in his home, and predicts he will prevail against opponents who in some cases are better-financed and have received potentially potent endorsements.

Ward 8 is the poorest in the city, and the youngest. It includes far Southeast between the Anacostia River and the Maryland line, taking in the Washington Highlands, Shipley Terrace and Congress Heights neighborhoods, among others.

Lockridge's challengers say the ward's schools face problems ranging from crime and discipline and crowded classrooms to the need for repairs. The ward's schools suffer, especially, from chronic low achievement among students.

The City Council member from the ward, Wilhelmina J. Rolark, has thrown her support behind a former aide: 33-year-old Phinis Jones, who ran for the Ward 8 council seat in 1974 but finished fifth in a field of eight.

"People have lost faith in the school board member from Ward 8," states Jones, who was endorsed this week by the Washington Teachers Union. Jones -- who reported to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Aug. 10 that he had raised nearly $2,500, but now says he has raised more than twice that amount -- also has been pushing other issues.

Jones says he disagrees with the "open space" classrooms in some of the ward's schools, in which several classes are taught in the same large room. And Jones complains that elementary school classes in the ward are overcrowded, and that many of the schools need repairs. Like the other candidates, he opposes the tuition tax credit initiative on the November ballot.

Another former City Council aide -- Linda H. Moody, 32, who until shortly before she announced her candidacy worked for Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) -- is also running in Ward 8. Moody, who lives in Congress Heights, received the endorsement of the D.C. Committee for a Better School Board, the group headed by retiring board member Carol Schwartz and former school superintendent Vincent E. Reed, that last week made recommendations for all the contests.

"The main thrust of the community should be to get someone elected who is capable of communicating, and not antagonizing," said Moody, who has not been employed since leaving Kane's staff. Beyond that, she said, she is "not campaigning on any particular issue," but rather on what she hopes voters will perceive as her "ability to make rational and just decisions."

Moody reported on Aug. 10 that she had raised nearly $2,000, and said this week that she has more than doubled that figure. She has been criticized by some opponents for receiving contributions from outside the ward. Opponents have tried to paint her as Kane's candidate for the school board.

Another well-financed candidate is the Rev. Edward H. Moore, 52, the pastor of the Life Church of Good Hope on 14th Street NW, and until last year a resident of Ward 2. Moore, who lives in Congress Heights, reported raising $3,633 as of Aug. 10, most in the form of loans from friends.

But he also received a $200 contribution from Bethesda developer Nathan Landow, prompting some of his opponents to charge that he is being bankrolled by real estate interests. Moore said last year that Landow had discussed with him the possibility of his becoming a partner in Landow's Metro Center development.

Moore, running his campaign out of an office at 3707 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., says he wants to concentrate on the issue of crime, drugs and other distractions in the schools that make it impossible for students to learn. He suggests locking school doors, except for tightly controlled front and rear entrances, to bar outsiders. "You can have the best school buildings, the best books, the best teachers," he says, "but if that classroom is not conducive to teaching, you can't teach that child."

Candidate O.V. Johnson, 46, has joined the anti-Lockridge chorus, saying that he has talked with teachers in the ward's schools "who are afraid to speak out" on school policy because they fear retributions from Lockridge. He accuses Lockridge and other incumbents of "posturing, and not doing the work that needs to be done."

Johnson, who lives in the Bellevue area in the far southern tip of the ward and works as a veteran's job placement counselor for the D.C. government, lent his own campaign $2,000, and says he has raised an additional $1,500.

He said he believes the board will have to come to grips with the issue of whether some schools must be closed because of underenrollment, and in general must learn to provide essential services in an era of budgetary cutbacks.

Veteran Ward 8 Democratic party activist Absalom F. Jordan Jr., an unsuccessful City Council candidate in 1978 and a formerly unsuccessful candidate for the school board, is also running for Lockridge's seat. He has been mostly absent, however, from the big-money and poster wars. Also running a low-profile campaign thus far is candidate Gordon A. White.

Jordan is believed to have good name recognition in the ward, although he has not yet waged the kind of high-visibility campaign being fought by some of the others. White, a community organizer who has worked in several of the city's neighborhoods, likewise has not yet staged a blitz.

Neither Jordan nor White could be reached for comment.

Lockridge sees the campaign as a contest among himself, Jones and Moody. He says he believes the two will cancel each other out, clearing the way for his reelection.

He says he is aware that the other candidates would like to make him an issue, but adds that he believes his record on the board is a good one, and that superior name recognition will count in his favor on election day. He says he plans to concentrate on Precincts 125 and 126, which include the Congress Heights and Washington Highlands neighborhoods near the far southern tip of the city, and on Precinct 119 near St. Elizabeths Hospital, which includes the Barry Farms housing project.

On Aug. 10, Lockridge, who lives in Washington Highlands, reported having raised only $100. Now, he says, he has raised about $1,700 -- far less than some of his other opponents.

But still he says, "I'm still way ahead. I'll beat 'em all."