WHEN THE DISTRICT'S public school system lost its "4th R" -- Reed, as in Superintendent Vincent E. -- it gained a whimsical poet of sorts in James T. Guines, his temporary successor. Mr. Guines says he enjoys writing and reciting a little light verse every now and then, usually about education.

When one is poking fun, however, it helps if both the poker and the pokee know it and if everyone else can quickly spot the humor. Herein, perhaps, lies the difficulty that Mr. Guines encountered when he tried out recently at a reunion of the city's junior and senior high school principals with Dr. Reed. Mr. Guines read a poem he claimed (heh, heh) had been written by a third-grader and found outside an elementary school bathroom. The verse was ostensibly the lament of a child who had failed to meet mid-year promotion standards established under the Reed administration. It wound up: I cain't read -- I don't even know no Mr. Reid (sic)/ Now they say, I cain't pass/When I grow up, I'm gonna kick his ---!!!."

More than a few people in the audience found little humor, less taste and no subtlety whatever in this act by Mr. Guines -- who already was on record attacking as "stupid" the Reed administration's handling of the pupil placement plan. Given their justifiable fondness for Dr. Reed and his record, these chilly reviews are understandable. The incident should not be overblown, but to those who had hoped for a little more of a class act from a candidate for permanent school superintendent, the poor marks that Mr. Guines got were poetic justice.