Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., left, greeted students as they entered the new Barack Obama Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, Md. (Mark Gail)

William R. Hite Jr., superintendent of Prince George’s County schools, is one of two finalists to lead the Philadelphia School District after a nationwide search.

If hired in Philadelphia, Hite would replace former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who resigned after serving three turbulent years in the school system’s top position. She is a former superintendent of the D.C. public schools.

Hite has worked in Prince George’s, the second-largest school system in Maryland, since June 2006, when he was hired as deputy superintendent. He took over as interim chief of the system after the abrupt resignation of John E. Deasy in 2008.

Hite said he has been in discussions with Philadelphia for weeks. He said that although he has “not sought out other employment opportunities, I have been approached on numerous occasions and have turned them down.” But he said he could not pass up the chance to consider a move to Philadelphia.

“My wife, Deidre, and I believe this is an opportunity that we must explore,” Hite said in a statement.

The Prince George’s County Board of Education tapped Hite to lead the 123,800-student system in April 2009. His four-year contract ends in June of next year.

During Hite’s tenure, the school system has posted rising state test scores. He has sought to close the gap between rich and poor students by expanding educational options, including charter and specialty schools.

“Despite significant fiscal challenges, our school system has made significant progress, and I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the last three years with the support of our school board members,” Hite said.

But the school system has continued to be plagued by declining enrollment, low achievement in many schools, political infighting and rapid leadership turnover.

If Hite is named superintendent in Philadelphia, a school system with 146,090 students, his departure is expected to create additional upheaval for Prince George’s.

Earlier this month, Bonita Coleman-Potter, the deputy school superintendent, announced her resignation. She will leave Prince George’s at the end of this month to become superintendent in Ocean Springs, Miss. Also, five seats on the nine-member school board are up for a vote in November.

The school board released a statement that the announcement about Hite “serves as validation of the progress we are making in our school district. If Dr. Hite were to leave, we would be sorry to see him go. However, we remain committed to continuing our efforts to improve the quality of education.”

Hite’s tenure as superintendent in Prince George’s is one of the longest in recent memory. Since 1999, no superintendent or acting chief has served more than four years. Deasy left in 2008 after serving two years to take a position at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Andre J. Hornsby, who was hired in 2003, resigned in 2005 during a corruption scandal. He was convicted and is serving time in prison.

Hite is expected to participate in a community forum in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

Pedro Martinez, deputy superintendent in Clark County, Nev., is the second finalist chosen by the School Reform Commission and is expected to meet with the Philadelphia community Monday night.

Martinez previously served as chief area officer of the Chicago public schools, the third-largest school district in the United States, serving more than 400,000 children.

The commission could name a new superintendent by the end of next week.

Hite and Martinez are both graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy, a 10- month executive training program.

Prior to being hired in Prince George’s, Hite had never served as a superintendent.

He came to Prince George’s from Cobb County, Ga., where he served as assistant superintendent and supervised elementary, middle and high school principals. Previously, he worked in Henrico County, Va., as a principal and administrator.