Gregory E. Thornton, the School District of Philadelphia's second-ranking official and highest-ranking educator, is a finalist for superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

Thornton and his boss, Paul Vallas, the school district's chief executive officer, are on vacation during this spring-break week and were unavailable for comment, a district spokeswoman said yesterday.

Thornton, a Philadelphia native and an Overbrook High School graduate, was hired as the district's chief academic officer on June 28, 2004. His annual salary is $195,700.

The Seattle School Board is expected to name a new superintendent of Seattle's 45,000-student system by the end of this month, a spokeswoman said. Thornton, 52, is competing against Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of the Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Both topped a list of 39 candidates. They are expected to be in Seattle this week to visit schools and meet with school-board members and community groups.

With the Philadelphia district, Thornton has championed providing struggling students with extra instruction time. He also pushed the drive to make African-American history a mandatory course for graduation.

Last year he was criticized when it came to light that he and another district official had taken a trip to South Africa, partly financed by an education-software firm that later received a no-bid contract recommended by Thornton. *