The D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers yesterday unveiled a program to improve discipline in the troubled D.C. public schools by having parents take greater responsibility for their children's behavior at school.

Called Project ATTEND (Alternatives To Trouble--Encouraging New Directions), the program will involve teachers, administrators, student governments, local churches and the police in finding methods to prevent truancy, violence, vandalism and drug use in the schools. The major emphasis, though, is on parental involvement.

One approach the project will use is to send constantly disruptive students--and their parents--to special nine-week workshops geared to help the students improve their behavior.

This approach will serve as an alternative to the current practice of suspending students with severe disciplne problems, said Nona Johnson, chief attendance officer for the schools and coordinator of the project.

"When I look at this project, it suggests to me that the parents, under the leadership of the D.C. Congress of PTAs, want to play an integral part in the education of their youngsters," said Schools Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie.

About 75 parents and school officials gathered yesterday at Woodson Senior High School in far Northeast to mark the beginning of Project ATTEND. Recent polls, including a survey by the Gallup organization, show that parents think discipline is the number-one problem affecting the public schools.

Woodson student Kelley James, 15, said she agrees. "There needs to be more discipline in the classroom. When the students act up, it's very hard to learn."

Roderick Jackson, 10, a student at Drew Elementary School in Northeast, said he thinks more students at his school should be punished for writing graffiti on the walls and "talking when they're not supposed to."

The PTAs of each school will send home to parents this week an "action sheet" recommending that they talk with their children "to identify discipline problems and work together on improvement efforts."

Parents will then be invited to assemblies at their children's schools where discipline will be discussed. Teachers have been directed to take time one morning next week to talk to their classes about improving discipline, and guidance counselors have been requested to set up conferences with students who have behavior problems and with their parents, Johnson said.

All public school students will be asked to participate in a contest for the best essay, poem and drawing relating to the "ABCs" of good discipline, "Attendance, Behavior and Classwork," Johnson said.

Patricia Morris, Mayor Marion Barry's liaison for education, said she thinks many parents will find it difficult to do what the project asks of them because of "other priorities." But "at least this is a start," she said.