IF THE students of the D.C. school system are lucky -- and if members of the board of education retain their resolve and fortitude -- today will be Andrew E. Jenkins' last day as the city's school superintendent. That is, if the school board goes through with its plans to review his contract at a special meeting scheduled for this morning. There is every reason to proceed as planned, since the case for terminating his relationship now rather than next June, when his contract expires, is especially strong and compelling. And the case for prompt action has been well established by no less than the superintendent himself, through his own poor record of performance and his willful disregard of the standards of his profession.

There was a time when the board believed otherwise. It believed it was possible that this clearly underperforming administrator could serve out the rest of his term and leave amicably, without doing much further damage to a system already in crisis, in part, because of him. Now the board can no longer afford to wait, for doing so only further sacrifices the interest of more than 80,000 schoolchildren who are the real victims of his mismanagement. Which brings us to the first problem with the superintendent. Regrettably, as of this morning, the public still does not know how many children are enrolled in the District's public school system. Neither does the school board. Even after the fiasco in March over the enrollment numbers, a correct count has not been calculated. The board was first promised figures by Oct. 15, then Oct. 31. Now a certified count won't be ready until Dec. 7. What more basic task is there than to simply count students correctly and on time?

There's more. Some students entered classrooms in September only to find they had no teachers, although ample numbers were available, and the school board sought to have teacher assignments completed in August. Meanwhile, the superintendent has played musical chairs with school principals, precipitously moving more than 90 without regard for either the schools or students. Many classrooms still lack textbooks, though money to purchase them is available. Despite a bloated bureaucracy -- its excess size established by the Rivlin and COPE reports and confirmed by the superintendent's own statement -- he now blithely seeks to add 295 new positions to the system. A teacher testing program for newly hired teachers, directed by the school board, is not in place; nor has Dr. Jenkins produced teacher competency standards as requested by the board.

But Dr. Jenkins has not been idle. He refuses to leave this system with any degree of grace. In a move completely unbecoming to a school superintendent and contrary to professional ethics, Dr. Jenkins has ordered his own administrators, and has also directed them to order school principals, to leave their jobs today to demonstrate on his behalf outside the school board meeting -- to save his job. And since he can't make the case for his retention on the basis of his performance, he is relying on that old standby, race. Today's meeting is not about Afrocentric education. The money is already budgeted by the board. Neither is it about getting rid of a black superintendent. It's all about his competence and keeping faith with the students, who are desperately in need of more than Dr. Jenkins has the ability to give them: a stable and productive learning environment.