Irvin H. Schmitt, 90, who as superintendent of the Falls Church public schools for 16 years before retiring in 1965 helped guide the schools through one of education's most explosive eras, died of cardiorespiratory arrest Jan. 12 at his home in Arlington.

Beginning in his native Iowa, his education career spanned half a century, but his philosophy of education never changed. In an interview with The Washington Post shortly before his retirement, he said, "What you're trying to do is make youngsters be good members of a democratic society. Some people think that education is just being a scholar in a limited area. But I think a person ought to be well-rounded and he ought to be knowledgeable and experienced in many fields."

Mr. Schmitt was a graduate of Coe College and earned a master's degree in education at the University of Iowa. In 1916, he managed a tent show that wandered the Midwest. He then turned to school administration.

He came to Washington in 1943 to take charge of educational work with the Victory Farm Volunteers of the old Farm Labor Program. He then worked for the old U.S. Office of Education and was a member of the research staff of the Council of State Governments. In 1949, he was named the first superintendent of the new Falls Church system.

The library audio-visual center at George Mason High School was named in Mr. Schmitt's honor. He was a member of Fairlington Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, the Falls Church Lions Club and the Federal Schoolmen's Club. He was a founder of the Washington area School Study Council.

His wife, Beryl, died in 1974. Survivors include a son, Dr. Irvin H. Jr., of Richmond; two daughters, Jean Smith of Falls Church, and Betty Deibert of Annandale; a brother, Elmer, of Sarasota, Fla.; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.