Three principals will be leaving the Alexandria school system at the end of this school year.

Christine Howard leaves Jefferson-Houston Elementary School, where she has been since 1973. Howard, 57, was a home-town girl who attended the old Parker-Gray High School, an all-black school that became a junior high in 1965 when the city's schools were desegregated. She began working for the city schools in 1954.

"I've spent 33 years in . . . education in the city of Alexandria, and I think it's important that you know when it's time to move on," Howard said last week. "I just felt it was time."

She plans to open a collectibles store in Alexandria.

"The positive trends I've seen in education are getting the schools to continue to try and get parents involved in the education of their children," Howard said.

Steve Osisek, 59, has worked for the city schools for 35 years and has been principal of George Washington Junior High School since 1971. He hopes to work part time with the state Beginning Teachers Assistance Program, helping to evaluate new teachers in Virginia.

"I feel the pendulum is swinging back to an emphasis on basic skills and academic work, and that's good," Osisek said.

Osisek said he has two concerns about education today. "One is the substance abuse problem," he explained. "The other is, I think we've got to, in this country, look at middle school education and what we're doing with those kids and how we can make the transition from elementary school to junior high better."

Walter Krug, 45, has worked for the city's schools for 20 years. He has been principal of Mount Vernon Elementary School for seven years, and on July 1 he will become the superintendent of schools in Absecon , N.J., which has 750 students.

Krug also said the best change in education has been back-to-basics, "although we never really left the basics in Alexandria, taught within a very human kind of organization. That's one of the things I'm going to miss most about Alexandria."