Despite criticisms of its costs and forecasts of a political free-for-all, D.C. school board President R. David Hall said the conference for parents of D.C. public school students that concluded yesterday accomplished its goals.

"Parents have been coming up to me all day saying, 'This is great,' " Hall said. "That's what we're trying to do, help the parents {become} good consumers of education."

The event began with a Friday night reception and continued yesterday at the Washington Convention Center with nearly 30 workshops. Panels were offered on the difficulties when both parents work, parent/school relationships, early childhood education and other topics. Many of the presenters were parents of city schoolchildren.

"It's the best thing that could have happened for the parents, the teachers, the students. There's a wealth of information here," Regina Alexander said. Alexander left her children -- 4-year-old William Alexander and 12-year-old Tiffany Ward -- at home, she said, "so I can absorb without being distracted by their needs."

The three workshops Alexander attended by late afternoon -- on inspiring young children to write, enhancing motivation and self-confidence of children and alternative education options within the D.C. school system -- were just what was needed, she said.

"I want to be able to help my daughter {with her writing skills}," Alexander said. "Just because I'm an adult doesn't mean I know {the rudiments of} writing." But she was ready for much more. "I can't wait until they have this next year so I can get a different range."

About 6,700 parents had registered for the conference beforehand, Hall said, and though a definitive count wasn't available, he said: "We had far more {parents who attended} than anybody expected."

Hall said the board hopes to set up similar meetings at local schools, perhaps as often as once a week, to further the parents' knowledge. But Hall noted one disappointment: "I didn't see enough dads here. Fathers have to take a larger role" in the education of their children.

Before the conference, some board members balked at its $291,000 budget, and there were reports that the event would not amount to more than a campaign boon for board members seeking re-election next month.

The conference was "a waste of money and time," said David Dabney, a candidate for an at-large school board seat. "The thing was poorly attended." Friday evening, Dabney said, he passed out campaign literature provided by the League of Women Voters outlining his platform and that of all other candidates. Saturday, he said, convention center guards forced him to leave and stop handing out the same information.

Jim Jones said parents at morning workshops in which he was a panelist talked publicly about their problems and sought support and help from fellow parents. That's why the process has to continue, he said. "These parents are in here on a Saturday attending a seminar about their students and {they're} posing real problems. These parents are really serious."