The two finalists vying to become Camden's next school superintendent last night expressed optimism about the future of the district of 19,000 students, which has been scarred by an ongoing test-score rigging scandal and is struggling financially.

Both women introduced for the first time - Shelley Jallow and Bessie Young - have extensive urban education experience, a key requirement of the board.

Jallow, of Bowie, Md., a top school administrator from Maryland who was once the number-two academic official in New Orleans, told the gathering of about 50 parents and teachers at the district's television studio: "I believe your school system is on the verge of greatness."

Young, the Central Region superintendent in the Philadelphia school district who lives in Williamstown, told the nine-member panel that peppered the two with questions: "I've been an educator for 30 years. . . . I have committed my entire life to that 'til death do us part."

Jallow, who said she has been an educator for 18 years, is the chief academic officer in the Prince George's County (Md.) School District.

Young called on Camden parents "to galvanize . . . together" to uplift the district.

A school-board committee selected the two as it seeks a replacement for Annette D. Knox, who resigned in June when the school board bought out her contract. Knox had been at the center of a controversy over grade fixing, test-score rigging, and bonuses that she paid herself. The district remains under criminal investigation.

The school board has not said when it will make a final decision.

"This is not an opportunity to think about failure," said Young, formerly an assistant principal and high-school principal at Philadelphia high schools.

Jallow started as a middle-school principal in Hartford, Conn., and later became a math coordinator in New York City, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. She became deputy superintendent of academics in the troubled New Orleans district, clashed with a school-board member and resigned after six months, the newspaper said.

"With the right leadership, processes and resources this can be a very successful district," Jallow said last night. "This is not at all a failure but an opportunity to grow."

Contact staff writer Dwight Ott at 856-779-3844 or dott@phillynews.com.