He has already drafted outlines for two possible books, one about growing up in Missouri, the other on education. He's considering working as a part-time consultant to school divisions across the country. And, somewhat gleefully, he and his wife are preparing to book some long vacations.

After 18 years as superintendent of Prince William County's school system -- and more than 20 years before that working in other school districts -- Edward L. Kelly for the first time is pondering what everyday life will be like beyond the world of standardized tests, crowded classrooms and educational policies.

With about a week left on his contract -- presiding over the fast-growing and improving school system -- Kelly, 63, has been spending his final days saying farewell and receiving heaps of gratitude from well-wishers. Despite all the praise aired publicly during the months leading to his departure, Kelly has said his transition out of the school system has not been entirely smooth.

School Board members told him that a leadership change after all this time could bring fresh thinking and new ideas, so Kelly withdrew his request for a contract extension. His recent health problems, including a brain tumor and complications from hernia surgery, also raised concerns about whether he could continue in such a grueling job. A manifestation of Kelly's condition has been evident to the public in School Board meetings and other events, because his medication causes his hands to quiver.

In the spring, the School Board hired Steven L. Walts, the superintendent of the Greece, N.Y., school district. Walts has not yet indicated any major proposed policy changes, saying that he needs a chance to review the system when he moves here.

In the meantime, Kelly is making the rounds, expressing and receiving gratitude, but also wondering what the afterlife of a superintendent will be. During a reception honoring him Monday at C.D. Hylton High School, he said in an interview that the transition is "very emotional, and it's very unusual, and somewhat strange."

"It's hard on me that I'm not going to be back anymore," he said.

Odds are he'll return to some kind of work. Retiring superintendents across the country typically take a year off before taking on a part-time job as an educational consultant, working at a nearby college or even serving as an interim superintendent in another school district, said Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

"Very few of them retire and play golf and stop working. Their job has been pressured and so full of action, it's hard for them to stop," Houston said. "A lot of them have trouble with it. They have trouble figuring out their place in the world. They say it's hard getting used to not being in charge, to not have people to delegate work to and not being in the limelight."

The Hylton reception was one of a handful of recent ceremonies paying tribute to Kelly, the longest-serving superintendent in the Washington area, who increased his popularity by empowering individual schools and giving them control over their budgets. Another reception at Hylton this month drew about 250 school officials. Last week, the Board of County Supervisors hosted a dinner party for him at the Montclair Country Club, where he received a letter from Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), schools spokeswoman Irene Cromer said.

On Tuesday, Kelly played in a benefit golf tournament whose proceeds will fund a new scholarship in his name. The annual scholarship of $2,000 to $4,000 will go to a graduating senior who wants to become a teacher

At Monday's reception at Hylton, Kelly stood in a receiving line of teachers, former teachers and parents. "Hell of a run," one parent said. "Come back and see us," said another.

Lynne Asmuth, director of the county's child-care program at the elementary schools, who attended the reception, explained Kelly's popularity succinctly: "He stepped back. . . . He didn't come in and micromanage."

Jerline Sanders, a county social worker and former teacher, said Kelly made recruitment of minority teachers a high priority after she and others met with him several years ago.

"He was asking the important questions," Sanders said.

Kelly's wife, Lynn, said that she is ready for his return to a more leisurely pace but that the family is also bracing for a medical operation next month on his brain tumor.

"We may just sit around and watch TV for a year," she said, jokingly. "We've had a very eventful life. I've seen him take troubled school systems and make them productive. It wasn't easy."

During his speech, Kelly wanted to make it clear that the school system's success can never be attributed to one person.

"It is not simply because what I have done over the last 18 years. It is what we have done together," he said. "I don't say that with any false modesty."

"It's hard on me that I'm not going to be back anymore," said Edward L. Kelly, who is retiring after 18 years as superintendent of Prince William's schools.