The Prince George’s County Board of Education on Friday began interviewing about 10 candidates who want to run the Washington region’s third-largest school system.

The board is trying to find a permanent replacement for former superintendent William R. Hite Jr., who left last summer to take the top job in Philadelphia.

Alvin Crawley, who has applied for the post, has been serving as the county’s interim superintendent since September.

Since Hite’s departure, the 123,000-student system has experienced upheaval. It has lost top administrators, including its chief financial officer, general counsel and director of student services. Crawley is the sixth superintendent to serve in an interim or permanent basis over the past 11 years.

While the school system has made significant strides over the last several years, including improvements on state test scores, it continues to lag behind many others in the region. It faces dwindling enrollment, a continued lack of trust in the public schools and an increase in the number of students from low-income families.

Members of the community, who have been anxiously awaiting news about the search process, said Friday that they were surprised to hear that the board was conducting interviews this weekend.

“I thought the [Chamber of Commerce] was supposed to be a participant in the interview process,” said James Henderson, the chairman of the board of directors and a former member of the school board.

Henderson said it is important for the board to include the business community in the process.

“In order for us to attract top businesses, we have to have an attractive school system,” Henderson said. “So we want to be involved in helping the board in selecting the best candidate.”

A spokesman for the board did not return calls seeking comment about the meeting.

According the school system’s Web site, the board is scheduled to interview and announce a list of candidates in the spring.

The HYA Executive Search firm, which was contracted to meet with members of the community to compile data about the type of superintendent they wanted, found that teachers, parents, students, administrators and other stakeholders want a superintendent who is collaborative, shows integrity and has a vision that he or she can fulfill. HYA is also vetting the candidates.

School Board Chairman Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) has previously said more than 30 candidates applied for the position.