Six of the 17 candidates seeking two at-large seats on the D.C. School Board have emerged as the strongest challengers to incumbents Frank Shaffer-Corona and Barbara Lett Simmons, who are both hoping name recognition will help them edge out a wide field of opponents in the Nov. 3 election.

The six challengers are Frank B. Bolden, the Rev. David H. Eaton, Manuel B. Lopez, Jonas Milton, Phyllis Young and Athel Q. Liggins. With the exception of Eaton, who is banking on his widespread name recognition as pastor of All Soul's Church and close associations with several city officials, including Mayor Marion Barry, these candidates have been waging the most visible campaigns. The nine other challengers have attracted less support.

All of them have been stumping schools, churches and supermarkets to meet voters and distribute their campaign literature. All except Liggins have been endorsed by some major group or well-known city figures. Each came into the race with a particular base of support, but is now concentrating on attracting voters in the city's high-voting precincts -- those where voters traditionally come out, even in an off-year election.

Some 46,000 votes were cast in the at-large election in 1977, when Simmons, with 21,821, far outdistanced the three other candidates, including Shaffer-Corona, who got 11,640 votes.

In 1979, only about 29,000 votes were cast when Eugene Kinlow won at large with 10,932 votes. But this time there is an educational tax credit intitiative on the ballot that would enable parents to receive a credit of up to $1,200 for expenses they pay to educate their children in either public or private schools.

The measure is expected to attract far more voters than the last at-large school board race since the initiative would benefit residents with children in private and parochial schools who might not otherwise be interested in a school board election.

For this reason, the at-large candidates have been reluctant to predict, based on the results from past elections, the number of votes needed to win this time. Milton's campaign strategists, however, estimate that the winners will have to receive at least 8,000 to 10,000 votes.

Most of the candidates have quite different bases of support. Young, for example, has widespread support from the many parents in Wards 3 and 4 who worked with her in organizing the Parents United for Full Funding, a group that successfully lobbied for an additional $28 million for the school budget this year. Before moving to upper Northwest in Ward 4, Young, 41, lived in Northeast Washington in Ward 7 and her supporters expect her to do well there too.

Bolden's base is in the solidly black middle-class Woodridge section of Northeast. A former public schools athletic director, Bolden, 63, says he expects most of his support to come from the longtime Washingtonians whom he has gotten to know over the past 39 years through his work in the public schools, civic associations and such old-line black organizations as the Pigskin Club and Omega Psi Phi, a predominantly black fraternity.

Milton, who at 30 is one of the youngest candidates, lives on upper 14th Street and works at the Southeast Neighborhood House in Anacostia. He has considerable name recognition among some of the younger voters because he played Eastern League Ice Hockey -- the fourth black ever to do so.

Lopez, 50, is drawing much of his support from Ward 1, where he is chairman of the Adams-Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and Ward 3, where he is familiar to the parent groups at Deal Junior High School and Wilson High School. He has sent out several press releases and mailings to selected groups of voters, in which he complains that the current school board "couldn't manage a candy store" and criticizes its handling of the recent budget cuts and teacher layoffs. As a Hispanic, he has aimed part of his campaign literature and his remarks at public forums at Shaffer-Corona's record. Shaffer-Corona is the only Hispanic on the board.

Liggins, 54, the former principal of McKinley High School in Northeast, has an army of former students supporting his candidacy as well as support from his church, Trinity A.M.E. Zion on Park Road NW.

These six challengers agree on a number of issues. They support the back-to-basics approach to instruction and more career education in the schools and oppose the tax credit tax initiative. They promise not to meddle in the day-to-day operation of the schools, and to reduce the amount of school funds the board spends on its salaries and staff.

In speeches, they portray themselves as peacemakers who can bring harmony to the often-fractious board.

Young, a statistician and branch chief with the Federal Highway Administration, calls herself a team-builder and a "results-oriented person" who will make decisions based on the question, "What does this have to do with the education of children?"

Milton said he knows about team-playing from his days in professional hockey and learned management skills as one of the youngest management interns in the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare. A proponent of career-oriented education, he said he traveled to Houston, using his own funds, so he could study a high school for engineering there which could serve as the model for a similar school in the District.

Lopez stresses his managerial skills. He oversees a $170-million budget for a nationwide Navy training program that teaches new recruits highly employable skills. Unlike Shaffer-Corona, who claimed he spoke for the city's Hispanics, Lopez said he does not intend to single out any group for special representation.

Some of Eaton's opponents have charged he is "too political," because of his long associations with city political figures, to be part of the nonpartisan school board. Eaton insists his political associations, especially with Barry, can only work for the betterment of the school system.

Eaton, 48, said his experience as counselor and registrar at Howard University in the early 1960s and as associate professor and dean of students at Federal City College would help him on the board.

Bolden has proposed beefing up school security and said the board should spend more money on services that directly affect students, such as textbooks, classoom equipment, and teaching and custodial staff salaries. He also has proposed giving principals more control over how money is spent on their own schools.

Liggins wants all teachers to pass a competency test before being hired. He said the current elementary school curriculum stressing reading and math must be expanded to also emphasize art, music and foreign languages. He said he also would seek to establish a regular tutorial program in the schools, using high school students, and set up an incentive programs for schools to reduce waste.

Among the professional educators running are Dorothy Cresswell, 56, a counselor at Julius Hobson Middle School in Southeast; Trummie Cain, 60, a former Cardozo High School teacher in Northwest; Ernest Mercer, 62, principal of Langdon Elementary School in Northeast; and Angie King Corley, 56, a counselor at McKinley High School.

Cresswell said she wants to see smaller class sizes, more teacher aides in the classrooms and more vocational education at the junior high school level. Cresswell said she is active in the Church of the Savior and has participated as a volunteer throughout the city in such programs as the Family Place, a day care center; LIFT, a leadership training program for inner city youth; and the Literacy Action Council.

Cain, a former high school business teacher who also has taught in elementary and junior high, said he is concerned about a lack of books and materials and the amount of disrepair in some schools. He said he would make it a priority to get rid of drugs in the schools.

Mercer describes himself as a "staunch supporter" of the competency-based curriculum and the Student Progress Plan, which requires students in elementary grades to master specific skills in reading and math before they can be promoted to the next grade level in January and June.

As a school board member, Mercer said he would seek to publicize "the good things" that are happening in the schools.

Corley, who has worked at many city high schools, said she would make better funding for the schools a top priority. She said she would concentrate as a board member on programs to cut the dropout rate and promote better discipline in the schools.

Charlotte Holmes, 54, a budget analyst in the Small Business Administration who has been active in Ward 6 parent groups, is making her third try for a seat on the board. She said she would work toward smaller class sizes and better security in the schools. She said the issue has been a particular concern of hers ever since her son was stabbed at Eliot Junior High School in Northeast.

Andrea Gonzalez, 30, a Metro transit employe, is running as the Socialist Workers Party candidate. She said she was involved in a program to increase parent involvement in the New York City school system before coming to Washington. She said the board should organize more community meetings and more actively involve parents in policy-making decisions.

The Rev. Kathryn Bailey Moore, 40, pastor of the Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church on H Street in Northeast, said she is running because more "regular citizens" need to be on the school board. Moore said she has served in churches in several parts of the city. Her strong point, she said, is "human politics -- dealing with people of different races and economic backgrounds." She also has been active in the Langdon Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association.

Berlene D. Newhouse, 57, said she has been active in PTAs in the city for 20 years, and would hold workshops as a board member to help parents get more involved with their children's education. She also has done volunteer work for 25 years, she said, at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Ninth Street NW. Newhouse, who earned her bachelors and masters degrees after raising her children, said she believes more parents should serve on the board, rather than people seeking to further their political careers.

Edwin C. Parker, another challenger, could not be reached for comment.

Shaffer-Corona lists as his accomplishments helping to establish a bilingual high school in the city and to introduce the competency-based curriculum to Palestinians and residents of Zimbabwe.

He is the only school board member ever to be censured by his fellow board members, for billing more than $1,000 worth of phone calls to Iran to the school system in an effort to free the hostages last year. He also used school system funds in 1978 to attend a Communist youth conference in Cuba.

Shaffer-Corona has yet to repay the system, arguing that both the phone calls and trip to Cuba were part of his duties as a school board member.

Simmons said she has been an advocate of vocational education and of parents having a say in who is selected to be principals. She said she was instrumental in requiring that teachers take additional courses every five years to be recertified to teach in public school.

Like Shaffer-Corona, Simmons has been a controversial member, known for her spats with other board members. For example, she refused to serve on any board committees last year, even though she was then serving as board vice president, because she was feuding with then board president R. Calvin Lockridge.