BY THE HUNDREDS, citizens from every neighborhood and walk of life in this community are imploring Vincent E. Reed not to leave the public school system that he has worked so hard -- against awful odds -- to shore up these last five years. Their message cannot be underscored enough. It must be communicated as forcefully and quickly as can be to all members of the school board who have driven Dr. Reed to such disturbing professional despair. It is up to them to undo the damage -- and that means making it unmistakably possible for the superintendent to function with the dignity and clear authority that he sought and deserved all along.

Dr. Reed has made it clear that he is "not playing a game" by resigning. He has never been known as that kind of person. The crucial, all-out effort to turn his decision around will take some doing. But board members can -- and must, if they care at all -- answer this emergency with an immediate, formal agreement to get off Dr. Reed's back. Is this too much to ask?

It is if members of the board insist on hurling blame for all calamities at each other, at the mayor, at the council or at whatever community institution suits their selfish occasions. It is if these members aren't big enough to accept criticism, to delegate authority and to support a highly capable superintendent in midst.

But any member of this board who derives the slightest bit of glee from driving Vincent Reed out of the superintendent's job has a perverted sense of the desperate condition in this community's classrooms. The young, gifted, black and disadvantaged children without alternatives are the victims of all the two-bit politicking.

So isn't if possible that Mayor Barry's attempts to mediate or council members' interest in what goes on in the classroom may reflect genuine concern, rather than some devious "plan" to "unsurp" school board authority? Isn't it possible that most parents, teachers, principals, city government leaders and civic organizations are sick and tired of the games board members play -- and proud of what Vincent Reed has tried to do to give the city's children a better shake?

It is entirely possible. And the school board members should be eager to demonstrate that they, too, care enough to make amends with -- and support as they haven't up to now -- the best superintendent this city has had in a painfully long time.