VINCENT REED is gone as superintendent, and the District now watches to see what will happen to the public school system. If the past 10 days are any hint of things to come, the District parents, students and teachers had better be prepared for more bad news: the system looks to be taking a step backward. Instead of building on the foundation left by former superintendent Reed, a foundation of stable leadership and back-to-basics instruction in the classroom, the new leadership seems bent on returning to the chaos and racial polarization that characterized Barbara Sizemore's tenure as superintendent. For example, the firing of school finance director James Boyle, whom some board members sought to have dismissed because he is white, is one indication of the return of racial tensions to the school system. Another is acting superintendent James Guines' decision to hire Rhody Mccoy.

Mr. Guines says Mr. Mccoy was hired to help the schools establish better communications with parents. There is no doubt that there is a need for greater parental involvement in the schools. But that parental involvement must be constructive, and Mr. Mccoy's track record surely does not suggest that he is the man for the job. His agitation in New York City contributed to grief and school strikes; and the educational theories he supported have been repudiated by parents because schools were the worse for them.

The politics of the new school leadership also seems to be inviting strife and confusion. For example, the new school board president, Eugene Kinlow, now says that former superintendent Reed's retirement was good for the schools, that Mr. Reed was a burden on the school system and that "the school system has been able to do as much in spite of Vincent Reed as because of him." This nonsensical attack on Mr. Reed does not diminish the former superintendent so much as it diminishes Mr. Kinlow. Despite all the envious clamor of his school board anatagonists, who have been seeking to appropriate Vincent Reed's prestige for themselves,there is no doubt that when Mr. Reed took over the school system in 1975 it was going down fast and that when he left it was showing signs of improvement. The disparaging remarks about Mr. Reed are not the only evidence of souring politics among school leadership. The acting superintendent, Mr. Guines, appears to have hired several people who are close to the former board president -- and opponent of Mr. Reed -- Calvin Lockridge. Mr. Guines, seeking favor with the board, has thus filled his staff with people who were whiners and complainers under Mr. Reed.

As you contemplate all this dispiriting activity, consider this: we are supposed to be talking about how best to educate 100,000 children still in city schools. It seems this has been forgotten by the people in charge. The only way to stop this slow death of the public schools -- schools that are already largely a last resort for poor parents who can afford nothing else -- will be to retire the people on the school board. New board members are needed who do not want to become members of the city council or mayor, but instead want children to learn to read, write and add numbers. Keep in mind that five board seats will be up for election in November. Five new people should be put on that board. And you should be sure to register to vote this time.