(Editor’s Note: Voters statewide go to the polls–or not– on Tuesday for a runoff in the race to become the Democratic nominee for Superintendent of Public Instruction in November. Here is the Independent‘s endorsement.)

The runoff election for state Superintendent of Public Instruction presents a study in contrasts. Paradoxically, however, the race between Democrats Marshall Stewart and June Atkinson is a tough call.

Atkinson, a longtime DPI administrator who currently serves as director of instructional services, understands how the department works. That combined with her firm grasp of policy minutiae means she’d require no time to get up to speed on the internal and external issues facing the superintendent. She would like to devote more resources to the professional development of educators as a way to better train–and retain–teachers. She’d also like to implement curriculum and other reforms at the high school level to keep pace with strides she’s helped guide in the state’s elementary and middle schools.

Stewart has made a name for himself as the state’s director of agriculture education and has shown the kind of leadership skills that are all too rare in state bureaucracies. A Sampson County resident, he has emphasized finding ways to aid rural school districts, which have been traditionally understaffed and underfunded. During his campaign, however, he has yet to articulate much in the way of initiatives, priorities or other specifics beyond the usual generalizations.

In the uncertain wake of the recent Leandro court decision (requiring greater equity between richer and poorer districts) and amid continued wrangling for power among various factions in the education arena, the need for strong leadership as well as the ability to navigate treacherous political waters leads us to give Stewart the nod by a nose.