DISTRICT SCHOOL board members are now saying that the departure of Vincent Reed will be no great loss to the school system if he leaves. They say he is not a good superintendent, but rather a master of the newspapers, which have made him out to be a great superintendent. They contend that Mr. Reed has failed to supply the school board with budget information, clear choices on school closings and solutions for problems with the city's Title I and special education program. This reminds us of an old adage -- something to do with glass houses and throwing stones. But even assuming that the school board has done its best to improve, and not disrupt, the school system, board members are 100 percent wrong to give Mr. Reed failing marks for his performance as school superintendent.

It was Vincent Reed, after all, who stabilized a school system that was out of control in the mid-1970s. The schools were in chaos after the school board had shown a positive gift for selecting one superintendent after another programmed to fail. In contrast, Mr. Reed now has test scores heading up, not down, for the first time in a dozen years. And it is Mr. Reed, most importantly, who has parents believing, and rightly so, that someone in the school system cares whether their children can read and add numbers. When it comes down to front-line, in-the-classroom performance, it has also been Vincent Reed who has had a positive effect on the school system. And there is no question in our minds that Mr. Reed's positive efforts need to continue. The man should be pressured by every parent and every city official, including the school board, to stay in office.

Questions about Mr. Reed's competence and skill in dealing with this city's madcap school board itself -- getting information to them, doing his various bureaucratic duties and all the rest of the board members' complaints about him -- may have some merit, but they are secondary. And, by the way, if Mr. Reed leaves, what then? With whom will the school board replace him? Who would take on the job of dealing with them? And who would select this new superintendent? Why, the same school board that has been so divided and divisive that it has done little but hurt the reputation and quality of education in this city in recent years. Another question is: how long would the process of selecting another superintendent take? The schools can hardly afford to be leaderless at the point where they are just beginning to make some progress.

But all that is really an aside. The point is that with Vincent Reed as superintendent the school system now is better than it was before he came, much better; and though he has not been a perfect superintendent, he has got the schools moving in the right direction. That movement must be reinforced, encouraged. Vincent Reed must be kept on as superintendent. This coming fall, when there are school board elections, the voters will have something to say about board members who judge the superintendent only on how well he serves and relates to them -- rather than on what is going on in the classroom.