At Paul Junior High, adults were outnumbered yesterday, 402 to 14. Principal Tom Collier handled the crisis by dividing the sexes, then sending the girsl to the auditorium for "counseling" and the boys to the four large outdor basketball courts to vent their energies.

Creative coping was the order of the day in D.C. public schools. While the beleaguered and outnumbered school staffs managed to avoid complete chaos, however, it was obvious that Superintendent Vincent E. Reed's much-heralded plan to keep the schools operating and educationg despite the strike failed its first day's test.

All over town, small groups of teachers and a few parent volunteers tried to herd students into baby-sitting classes on topics such as "Etiquette and Manners," or directed students to write essays on the strike, while uncounted young mavericks played hooky in the confusion.

At Hart Junior High, "Miklar the Magnificent" saved the day. He was the star of a magic act that had been scheduled fortuitously for yesterday morning well in advance. Miklar kept 500 students riveted in the auditorium and "out of trouble" at least until lunch time, according to the principal, Carl Contee, who had only nine of his regular 62 teachers and four substitutes.

Parent Renee Hart said her 6-year-old son Shawn became confused by the scene he encountered at Friendship Educational Center, a community center and school complex at Livingston Road and South Capitol Street.

"By 11:15, my son had walked back home. He told me taht there was no teacher and that the students were running around the classroom and jumping onthe tables." She promptly returned the boy to school, she added.

Although 1,600 of the school's 1,900 students reported to class yesterday, the center had only 20 of the usual 100 teachers, aided by 10 parent volunteers. Principal Larry Page said they managed "reasonably well" under the circumstances. The massive student body, which ranges from kindergarten through secondary grade levels, was divided into large groups to discuss such topics as "the effect of the teacher strike on local politics."

Some school officials took pains to explain the strike to their students in group sessions, to assure children that it was nothing personal and to urge them to behave.

"Sometimes they think they can show support for the teachers by vandaliziang the school," said Collier, the Paul Junior High principal.

"Your education is being disrupted," Principal Alexander Brown told his students in assembly yesterday morning at John Quincy Adms Elementary School. "It affects your education beacuse your purpose is to do what?"

"Learn!" the children shouted back in unison.

He praised those teachers courageous and brave enough to come to school anyway," explaining tha they had to cross picket lines, something sosme feel you are "not supposed to do."

Some students, when told that longer school days were a strike issue, at first assumed that their teachers favored keeping them all in school longer.

"Oh, well!" said Brett Elmore, 12, a student at Paul, "If they're not trying to keep us in school longer,then I'm with them. Next thing you know we'll be going to school all year."

"Either they ought to come back in or they outght to let us go home," said Darlene Davis, 13, as she watched her classmates do some fancy "double-Dutch" skip-rope on the school lawn. "We haven't done nothing but sit around all day."

As the reports of absent teachers and defecting students piled up in his 12th floor office overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday, Superintendent Reed vowed there would be "a better day tomorrow."

His "strike contingency plan" to assemble a network of substitute and retired teachers had proved inadequate, he conceded. But it was only the first day, Reed said, and "naturally we had new people in the classromms, and the kids didn't knwo them, so we had a lot of disturbances."

Also, he said, striking teachers had intimidated their colleagues by blocking school driveways with cars, bringing a Doberman pinscher along on one picket lone and telling students to go home.

He expects more teachers to brave the picket lines today, and more substitutes as well, he said, urging parents to "send their kids to school."