Even as Prince William County's 38,900 students slide into their classroom chairs on Tuesday, their parents will be urged to climb aboard the bandwagon in support of a $44.89 million school bond referendum to be on the ballot Nov. 3.

As Virginia's fourth-largest school system and one of the state's fastest growing, Prince William is chronically short of classroom space. If passed, the three-part bond issue will finance construction of a high school ($23.7 million), a middle school ($11.2 million), and two elementary schools and an addition to a third elementary school ($9.99 million).

The Prince William Citizens for Quality Education, a group of school supporters who have organized to support the referendum, will be asking all parents to get involved in the campaign, according to Donna Blanton, a Dumfries businesswoman who heads the steering committee.

Gerard P. Cleary (Woodbridge), who was elected chairman of the county School Board in July, said he is optimistic that the bonds will be approved by most of the county's 62,000 registered voters. "If they don't pass, we'll have some very strong concerns. The schools are at capacity or over capacity, and the community doesn't like that. Already, we have trailers {temporary classrooms} in a number of our schools."

Cleary also said passage of the referendum will not solve problems down the line. "We are building for kids who are here already, not kids who aren't here yet."

The school system administration estimates that by 1990, 42,600 children will be enrolled in county schools. If the bond proposal loses, officials predict increases in class size, installation of more temporary classrooms, split-shift schedules and year-round school, which was necessary in the eastern section of the county from 1971 to 1981.

Although the results of November's bond referendum will not be felt immediately, a number of changes in the county system will be obvious as soon as the school doors open.

First, the county has a new superintendent: Edward Kelly, 45, who comes to Prince William after five years as superintendent of schools in Little Rock. Kelly succeeds Richard W. Johnson, a colorful and contentious superintendent fired by the board in December after seven often-stormy years at the helm.

By contrast, Kelly comes to the system with a reputation for conciliation and a flair for public relations. One of his final achievements in Little Rock was the successful lobbying of voters in support of a school tax increase. Officials in Prince William hope he will have similar success with voters here on the bond referendum.

According to Kelly, his top priority will be setting a documented course for the county's schools. This month he plans meetings with parents throughout the county to solicit their ideas on the direction of the schools.

"What kind of school district do we want to be? At the moment there is not a document to give us direction or tell us where we're going. We need that for the planning process," Kelly said.

There will be other new faces in the system. With an increase in enrollment of 1,100 students, about 100 new teachers have been hired, along with 11 additional guidance counselors and librarians.

Nine assistant principals will be new to their jobs this year, five of them included in the county's seven high schools. In addition, Potomac High School will have a new principal, Ann Lockett, formerly assistant principal. At the administration's central office at Independent Hill, two recently appointed associate superintendents will be on board, along with a new director of curriculum services.

Another new face for Prince William students will be Cathy Daugherty, who will be seen daily on a television screen by 21 eighth grade Latin students in four county middle schools. The students will be among 104 from various parts of the state participating in an electronic Latin I class broadcast from Varina High School in Henrico County near Richmond.

"We wanted to offer Latin in all our middle schools, so where enrollment was fewer than 10, we decided to go with the electronic classroom," said school spokeswoman Kristy Larson.

Students will have a direct telephone line to Daugherty's Varina classroom.

Using pictures of her far-flung students, she will call on them individually, and give them specific assignments, according to Carol Bass, county foreign language superintendent.

Under School Board policy, smoking will be discouraged in the schools.

This year's seniors will be the last class allowed to smoke on county school grounds.

Teachers will no longer be able to smoke in staff lounges. Smoking will be allowed only in designated areas.

This year, for the first time, the county school system will have a "What kind of school district do we want to be? At the moment there is not a document to give us direction or tell us where we're going. We need that for the planning process."

-- Edward Kelly

full-time substance abuse prevention director, according to Larson. Prince William's policy on expulsion and suspension for drug abuse or distribution is one of the toughest in Northern Virginia. With a full-time counselor, the system also will be able to provide an educational component to the policy for both children and parents, Larson said.

Drugs are a concern to the schools, Larson said, and there are efforts to beef up prevention programs in the elementary schools as well as upper grades. A special police-sponsored program called DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) will be aimed at fifth graders to help them learn to say no, resist peer pressure and increase self-esteem.

"As in other areas of the country, we're finding that some drugs are receding, while alcohol is becoming more popular," Larson said.