A story in yesterday's District Weekly incorrectly implied that Parents United endorsed one of the candidates in the D.C. Board of Education's at-large race. The group does not issue endorsements. (Published 11/2/90)

Over the past few weeks, in almost a dozen forums throughout the District, each of the 11 candidates for the at-large seat on the D.C. Board of Education has tried to stand apart from the crowd.

It has not been easy because, by their own admission, they all have the same goal: improving the lot of the District's 81,000 schoolchildren. What sets them apart are their backgrounds -- which range from political neophyte to former board member -- and on how they think this common goal should be achieved.

What is clear, many of the 11 said, is that there is unusual interest in the race. Eugene Kinlow, the veteran at-large member whose decision not to run threw the race wide open, has called this a "pivotal time" for the board. This notion that the school system is at a crossroads as the board prepares to pick a replacement for Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins is stressed by parents, teachers and others with a stake in the system, several candidates said.

"I was afraid there would be very little interest in the Board of Education race, but the community has shown a lot of interest," said Bettie Benjamin, who lost a bid to retain her seat in 1987 and now seeks a fourth term on the 11-member, nonpartisan board.

Benjamin said that if she is elected, she would support early childhood education, higher salaries for teachers and expanded preschool and after-school programs. She is among the few candidates who are mounting strong campaigns.

Another, Shawn X Brackeen, the only teacher in the race and a member of a Nation of Islam slate, said he senses a growing demand for change in the school board.

"Everybody is caught up, whether consciously or unconsciously, in this new concept of change," he said.

Jay Silberman, a three-term co-president of Parents United who is running with that group's support; Valencia Mohammed, who strongly favors an Afrocentric curriculum, and Edward Sargent, a former Washington Post reporter who works in the mayor's drug control policy office, also are running strong campaigns.

Silberman, 42, began his campaign with a 20-mile jogging tour of public schools on opening day. A lawyer and former member of the panel that authored the Committee on Public Education plan, Silberman has emphasized his background as an education activist and has adopted the slogan, "The Kids Come First."

He has put out detailed "Focus Initiative" papers that outline plans to improve the dropout rate, school athletics, vocational education and recruitment and professional placement. Unlike others who endorse a new curriculum -- one that isAfrocentric -- Silberman said a comprehensive humanities program already exists at the School Without Walls. That curriculum, already paid for, meets the need, he said.

"I think what most parents want is a solid, responsible school system without the frills and without the extremes," said Silberman, who is endorsed by D.C. Council member William Lightfoot (I-At Large), and a host of teachers and principals.

Mohammed, 39, a parent activist and a consultant on Jenkins's panel on Afrocentric education, said the School Without Walls cannot meet the needs of all students.

"When he calls this frivolous and extreme, he {says} it from a white male-dominant way of thinking," she said. "That's what we're trying to eradicate."

An outspoken critic of the board's handling of Jenkins, Mohammed is the mother of six children in D.C. public schools and the founder of Operation Know Thyself.

She said that if elected, she would serve as a watchdog against "institutional racism" that has caused inequities in the quality of education available in city schools.

"You need to change the mindset of the Board of Education," Mohammed said. "We're talking about black-on-black mental genocide."

Sargent, 32, said he would push for the establishment of a citywide student advisory panel to the school board.. The nonvoting, multiethnic board would develop leadership skills and decrease racial polarization, he said. Like other challengers, Sargent has criticized the current board for failing students.

"I think many board members are asleep," he said. "I think the problems of the system lie squarely with the board and the superintendent."

Brackeen, 33, emphasizes special education, which he teaches at Kramer Junior High School. This segment of the student population, he said, has lost programs, clinical psychologists and therapists because of financial cutbacks.

"This has all been taken away from them. We have set the stage for their defeat," said Brackeen. "Then we hold our hands up in amazement."

Another candidate, Bobbi Blok, the executive director for the Washington Child Development Council, said her focus would be on creating programs for parents to highlight their importance as prime educators and developing school performance standards.

Most of the other candidates are running for the first time and have meager campaign budgets.

Ruth Goodwin, 66, owner of Weddings and Catering Services and pastor of the tiny Mission for Jesus church on Rhode Island Avenue NE, said she would bring truth and fairness to the board.

"I see a whole generation of students who are lost. I see another one that's coming forth that's confused," said Goodwin. "If something isn't done, we're going to lose them."

Milton W. Collier, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and computer analyst, said all District schools should reach the level of magnet schools. He said he would institute college preperatory courses for students, and he criticized the board for failing where it mattered most.

"Any time you have high school students coming out and they can't read, I think the system is poor," said Collier, 43.

Another ANC commissioner who is running, Aurelia Corbett King, said the school system's method of appointing teachers and principals needs parental input. She said she would develop a system where parents who met certain criteria, including attending regular PTA meetings, would have a say in selecting.

"I think there are some very good teachers and some very good principals who are innovative and have done things on their own," said King, 46. "And then we have some who are not up to par and our children are suffering."

Kirstin Lebert, a District teacher on leave this year, favors increasing salaries for teachers and changing the tenure system, which she says makes it difficult to get rid of ineffective instructors. Lebert, 46, would require accreditation of elementary schools.

"We have to improve our achievement levels," said Lebert, sounding a persistent theme. "When we do that, we will improve the dropout rate."

Audrey C. Hipkins, president of Quick Source Inc., a computer research and development company, decided to run after seeing the limited skills of her Sunday school students at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. A self-described political outsider, she said the schools should prepare students to function in the business world.

"The message in the city is out with the old and in with the new," said Hipkins, 29. "I'm definitely as new as they get."