Alvin Thornton in 2010. (Gerald Martineau/For The Washington Post)

A retired Howard University professor and education leader was tapped Wednesday to be chairman of the school board in Prince George’s County, as the school system outside Washington looks to turn a corner after recent controversies.

Alvin Thornton, 70, who led the state education funding commission that is commonly known by his name, will chair the 14-member county board that oversees Maryland’s second-largest school system.

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) announced the appointment Wednesday, praising Thornton’s expertise, background and passion for children.

Prince George’s has great needs, she said, noting its large number of English language learners, students with disabilities and children who are economically disadvantaged.

“We are really confident that with Dr. Thornton we will be able to ensure what really is our chief priority, and that is making sure our schools are fully funded,” Alsobrooks said.

Thornton served on the school board in the 1990s and was chairman for three one-year terms during a long career in public life and at Howard, where he was a political scientist for 37 years and held a number of senior administrative posts.

He said he looked forward to positive, constructive and inclusive work with others in the community while dealing with tough issues.

“If I did not think that all decision-making would be done in the best interests of children, I would not have agreed to return as board chair,” he said in an interview.

Thornton replaces Segun Eubanks, who held the position for more than five years and was an appointee of then-County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). Eubanks announced last week that he would leave.

The event Wednesday was another sign of change in a school system that has faced scandals over pay raises, a collapsed federal grant and inflated graduation rates.

Five school board members were sworn in Monday, as was Alsobrooks. The school system’s interim chief executive, Monica Goldson, started in her post during the summer.

Goldson called the day “monumental,” for bringing Thornton to “rejoin our ranks” and said his presence would help the school system as it worked to regain the community’s trust.

Edward Burroughs III, a board member who was often at odds with the previous CEO, told those gathered for the event he had hoped for a new chairman who had credibility and could lend expertise on state funding and student achievement — all of which he saw in Thornton.

“We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Burroughs said.