SPEAKING OF NEW beginnings, when those bells go off again in the hallways of Washington's public schools Sept. 10, thousands of city youngsters will be eager to get back to work -- and with the announcement of a tentative agreement on a new contract, it now looks as if their teachers will be on hand and ready to greet them. After a crippling strike in the spring and a three-month summer recess, the students have more reason than ever to expect this prompt and orderly resumption of classes. Test scores, which have generally improved in the last year, still show that the students have a lot of catching up to do even to reach national norms.

As for the teachers, they should welcome the chance for some labor peace by ratifying the agreement. It is a reasonable settlement proposal. During the previous school board-teacher war, many parents and citizens could understand the teachers' refusal to accept a unilateral termination of their contract and the imposition of longer work days and school years without any compensation. But at this point, thanks to the sound work of a Superior Court judge and a thoughtful and fair fact-finding panel, these issues will await a time when the board can negotiate compensation.

Now with the teachers' labor problems out of the way, the next focus of public concern should be the November elections, when a majority of the seats on the school board are up. Twenty-five candidates are running for one at-large and five wards seats. The present board needs an overhaul. Not only has there been a resurgence of petty factionalism, but also the board's poor handling of its disputes with the teachers last spring was matched only by the erratic gameplaying of the union leadership.

As the election campaigns get under way, citizens should be shopping for candidates who will 1) give the superintendent crucial help and who can 2) answer questions not only about board-teacher relations, but also about what can be done to improve teacher evaluations; class sizes; textbook supplies; principals; and the relationship of the school system to city hall. What always seems to get lost between candidate forums and the next election is how to offer the best possible education in the classrooms to Washington's young.