Democrat June Atkinson is a former high school teacher who worked her way through the state's educational bureaucracy until winning election as state superintendent of public instruction in 2004.
As superintendent, Atkinson oversees the state Department of Public Instruction, which helps fund school districts across North Carolina and is involved in establishing the curriculum followed by schools. She is secretary to the North Carolina Board of Education but is not chairwoman of the policy-making body.
In 2009, Atkinson tussled with then-Gov. Beverly Perdue over the governor's appointment of a state schools chief executive. Perdue was trying to streamline the state's educational bureaucracy but did so at the expense of Atkinson's authority. Courts sided with Atkinson.