John L. Bristol, Alexandria school superintendent from 1977 to 1980, left the city one year shy of the end of his four-year term to move to a higher-paying superintendent post near Chicago.

"It's one of those jobs where you can't please everybody," Bristol remarked recently about the generally rapid turnover among superintendents in the Washington area.

"If you're really doing your job, it usually means you're not keeping it."

He dealt with court-ordered desegregation and changing demographics in Alexandria by closing two elementary schools and reorganizing the grades attending junior and senior high school.

When he left, some School Board members remarked that he was an excellent businessman but not a personal friend of the schools.

Bristol, 51, said he resigned not because he was unhappy or "burned out," but because the "timing was right."

"Superintendents deal with precious merchandise, somebody's child, and everybody's got a different idea of the best way to go about it," he said.

"When you feel you can no longer make an appropriate difference, that's the time to leave."

Now in his fifth year supervising the 3,500-student Lyons Township High School District in La Grange, Ill., he is paid $76,000 a year. Alexandria's 10,000-student system paid him $52,000.