THE FRENQUENCY with which principals are transferred in and out of District of Columbia public schools turns out to be alarming. In other school systems, a far more orderly process is followed, and it is understood that principal transfers are fairly rare occurrences not to be taken lightly or hastily. Since August 1988, however, when Andrew E. Jenkins became D.C. school superintendent, there have been 99 principal changes, and 36 this year. That's three times as many as in Prince George's County and nearly twice as many as in Montgomery County.

"We do it to strengthen a school's educational program," Mr. Jenkins argues. And in Ward 8, one of the most regularly disrupted areas -- thanks in large part to school board member R. Calvin Lockridge -- this "strengthening" has been singularly damaging to the education of the children. Mr. Lockridge argues that "this isn't disruptive. We're making changes for the better." Both claims are hard to believe. Last year, Douglass Elementary in Ward 8 had three different principals. Petworth Elementary in Northwest has had four principals since last fall.

Those who were removed as principals of some schools because of poor work were summarily named principals for other D.C. schools. But by far the most principal shuffles, and the most chaos, have occurred in the Ward 8 schools -- which, arguably, are those most in need of strong, stable leadership. During the past two years, there have been more principal changes in the Ward 8 schools -- 24 shuffles in its 17 schools -- than in three other wards combined.

Mr. Lockridge's role in one set of events, principal and teaching appointments at Ballou High School, was cited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools as a "critical problem" in 1988, when Middle States gave the school a three-year accreditation instead of the usual 10 years. The fact that Ballou's accreditation is up for renewal again next year is one strong reason why all of the ward's schools would be better served by Mr. Lockridge's opponent, Linda Moody.

As for Mr. Jenkins, this constant musical chairs in the schools citywide is another example of his disappointing leadership, and it is why the board of education as a whole should move rapidly in its search for a successor.