R. Calvin Lockridge hopes to win reelection to his Ward 8 school board seat on Tuesday the way he did it four years ago -- divide and conquer.

Lockridge, 50, who gained less than 40 percent of the vote in 1981 when he beat six challengers, said, "It's to my advantage to have a a lot of challengers. They divide the anti-Lockridge vote."

This year he faces five challengers, most of whom agree that they would stand a better chance with fewer candidates in the field. Some are trying to thwart the Lockridge strategy by joining forces with some of those who lost in 1981.

For example, Phinis Jones, who challenged Lockridge four years ago and finished second with 1,147 votes, is supporting Virginia Howard, an English professor and member of the board of trustees at the University of the District of Columbia. "We should be able to bring a considerable number of my supporters to her camp," Jones said.

"With support from former candidates and support from newly registered voters, we should be able to build a strong base," Howard said. "This area is quite transient and some people who supported Lockridge in the past are gone. And other people are disappointed in him . . . . "

Two other former contenders, Linda Moody and O.V. Johnson, are supporting Absalom Jordan, 44, executive secretary to the D.C. Unemployment Compensaton Board. Moody, who placed third in the 1981 contest with 885 votes, said she and Johnson, who won 535 votes to 2,059 for Lockwood, hope to persuade former supporters to support Jordan.

For the last month the candidates have crisscrossed the ward, the city's poorest and home to the largest concentration of juveniles, sparking little interest in their campaigns.

Two issues dominate the race. The first is the state of the schools, where absenteeism is high, teachers and principals complain of a lack of parental support and almost everyone complains of being ignored by the central school adminstration.

The second is Lockridge, who is seeking to defend his record of advocacy for Ward 8 -- and his confrontational style -- against the attack of challengers.

There have been motorcades, posters, fashion shows and sparsely attended forums, but the race still appears to be drawing little interest from Ward 8 voters.

During the day the candidates shake hands and pass out handbills at bus stops, barbershops and churches. At night, they and handfuls of supporters call voters asking for support.

Lockridge has raised the most money with $2,240, followed by Jordan with $2,109, and Howard with $1,625, according to reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. These three have also received most of the endorsements from city unions and politically active organizations.

Each of the other three contenders, Frank Sewell, 32, a former apartment manager; Lin Covington, 50, a D.C. math teacher, and William Lewis, 39, a U.S. postal carrier, has raised less than $250, according to city records.

One candidate dropped out of the race because he believed a large field of challengers would fragment the anti-Lockridge vote. "There were too many people in the race, so I decided to drop out three weeks ago ," said Charles Logan, a manager at a tax law consultant office. "I'd do anything to get Lockridge out of office."

But Lockridge believes five challengers are still enough to give him a victory. "If you divide the opposition vote five ways, doesn't that give the incumbent the best advantage?" he asked.

City Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), who endorsed her then-administrative assistant Jones in the 1981 race, has endorsed Howard. Her support could deliver a block of voters, several challengers said.

Lockridge has been endorsed by the Washington Afro-American newspaper and the Teamsters Union executive board, which pledged to telephone union members on his behalf and organize transportation to the polls for his voters on Tuesday.

He has received contributions of $50 to $100 from consultants and employes of the D.C. public schools as well as the JAM Corp., an advertising and promotional firm for which Effi Barry, Mayor Marion Barry's wife, is a vice president.

Jordan has won the endorsement of the Washington Teachers Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents many city workers, and the local chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Howard won the endorsement of The Washington Informer, a neighborhood newspaper published in the ward by Calvin Rolark, head of the United Black Fund and the husband of City Council member Rolark. He also contributed $200 to Howard's campaign.

At Howard's campaign office in a vacant barbershop, her campaign staff of 12 has organized fund raisers, registered hundreds of new voters and made phone calls looking for votes for her, she said.

"I've been in the community talking to people, emphasizing the importance of getting out to vote," she said. "People don't vote much in this ward, but I hope to get out some new voters. My strength is in the new voter."

As part of his campaign strategy, Jordan said, he has tried to change his longtime image of radical to one of a responsible active citizen.

"I've matured over the years and I think a lot of people who did not support me in the past will support me now," said Jordan, who won 290 votes in the 1981 school board race and ran fifth. "People can see I've changed and have learned to compromise."

Lacking funds and endorsements, Sewell, Covington and Lewis said they believe that their "personal" approach to voters is effective.

"I've been walking door-to-door talking to people," Sewell said.

Covington, 50, who ran for the Ward 8 City Council seat last year, said, "We put out 10,000 bumper stickers last year. My name is still fresh in people's minds. I've not been a winner yet, but from my track record as a community activist, people know what's up."

Lewis, 39, who hasn't reported any campaign contributions, said, "If I don't win, that's okay. I'm running to make sure the issues are discussed. The children in Ward 8 need better education. They are suffering and we need to do something to save them. There's drugs in the schools and that hurts the educational process."