THOUGH NO VOTERS will go to the polls for this one, a local election of utmost importance is scheduled today: a new president of the D.C. school board will be chosen by its 11 members. Just as the future -- for students, parents, teachers and school administrators -- lies with the new board, the success and harmony of this board in working with the superintendent to improve education depends on the abilities of the next president to heal old wounds and concentrate attention on the classroom instead of the board room.

The new board needs to break cleanly with a past history of bitter, petty divisiveness that has sapped the morale of everyone while relegating the system's most forgoten constituents -- the students -- to the status of political pawns. Of central importance, the board should be helping the city's capable superintendent, Vincent E. Reed, to improve what goes on in the classroom.

Eugene Kinlow, twice-elected at-large to the board, is the outstanding candidate for this mission. He is in an excellent position to direct the board's energies. Having become a member after last year's crippling strike (in which neither the internally warring board nor the teachers' union distinguished itself), Mr. Kinlow bears no scars from these ugly battles. Nor is he aligned with any of the old factions that fought them. Instead, he has expressed a refreshing concern for the students and has spoken diplomatically but forcefully of the need to work with Superintendent Reed as well as the teachers in seeing to it that students meet performance standards before they are promoted.

Superintendent Reed should be free to devote full time and attention to these obligations recruiting, testing and evaluating teachers; keeping classes reasonable in size and protected from intruders; and insisting on the finances necessary to provide testbooks and supplies. This is a fundamental approach, and one that requires sensitivity -- which has been in short supply on Washington's school board. That is why Mr. Kinlow proved a most attractive citywide candidate for the board, and why he is the most attractive candidate to assume the responsibilities of president.