Name as it appears on the ballot: June St. Clair Atkinson
Date of Birth: August 19,1948
Campaign Web Site:
Occupation & Employer: State Superintendent, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
Years lived in North Carolina: 36

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the board. If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

The most important issues include graduating all of our students from high school prepared for work, further education, and life in the 21st century; recruiting and retaining teachers and school leaders; using the power of technology to teach our current generation of students, and having safe and engaging learning environments for all students and educators. Top three priorities include reform and redesign of high schools to work for all students, expansion of early childhood education for at risk students, and improvement of teacher salaries and working conditions.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

Since taking office as State Superintendent in 2005, I have effectively worked with the State Board of Education to bring greater focus about the need to increase our graduation rate and decrease our drop-out rate. I have been instrumental in getting the State Board of Education to approve a strategic plan for improving reading and to request funds for technology and connectivity for our schools. Through my work with the State Board, there is a focus on revising our accountability system and revising the curriculum used in our schools. Greater emphasis is now being placed on staff development for teachers and school leadership needs. My preparation for this position includes a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from NC State University and experience as a public school teacher and educational administrator.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I believe the role of government should be to address issues which cannot be handled effectively by the private enterprise system. It is the responsibility of government to protect individual rights and provide services for the general good. One example is public education, a centerpiece of our free society. My platform focuses on graduating all, not just some, of our students from high schools prepared for work, further education, and citizenship. During my years in public education, I have received many state and national awards for leadership, service, and innovation. Awards such as the Inclusive Educator Award from the North Carolina Association of Educators and the Friend of Education from the North Carolina Association of Curriculum and Development are examples.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

One of the best ways to help build a just community is to have a quality public education system. I have supported the fair and equitable treatment of all students in our classrooms by speaking out for anti-bullying policies and laws. I developed partnerships with groups to gain support for public education. I have a long record, including my years as a teacher and educational administrator, of advocating and producing results that matter for students.

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

The current calendar law requires all schools to start late in August and end no later than June 10. This law is not contributing to the improvement of public education. School systems and teachers have little flexibility within those months to schedule professional development and align high school and community college schedules for students concurrently enrolled. The law should be changed to give local boards of education the authority to set the calendar while being sensitive to the travel and tourism business.

6. In paying for new schools and other educational needs, what role would you like to see assigned to:

Property taxes?
Impact fees?
Year-round schools?
Sales tax?
Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods?

Each community must determine the appropriate mix of taxes and school calendars that will result in adequate school facilities. There are school districts in our state that would not generate sufficient funds for facilities if they used the entire mix of fees, taxes, and strategies listed. We need to have a school bond that will give needed resources to communities to build and renovate schools.

7. The No Child Left Behind Act has set a goal that all students would be proficient in reading and math by 2013-14. Specifically, what can the Superintendent of Public Instruction do to help the schools that didn’t make their AYP? Secondly, what is your opinion on NCLB’s emphasis on standardized testing? Is NCLB a fair and effective program? Is there a better way to evaluate students and schools? What can be done to help low-performing schools?

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requires the Department of Public Instruction to help schools that didn’t make AYP. That system of help includes staff being assigned to schools to help the principal and teachers with leadership, curriculum delivery, and professional development. Assistance is also given to assess how funds can be used to have a greater impact on improving student learning. A focus is to help schools and districts build internal capacity to make improvements. Currently, the system of help is undergoing some needed revision, given the staff available in the Department of Public Instruction.

While the goals of NCLB are on target, the emphasis on testing and the means of determining AYP undermine the educational process and the needs of students.

More than a test score should be used to evaluate students and schools. Schools should be evaluated by outcomes such as graduation rate and the percent of students who are college and work ready. Annual snapshots should be taken at the elementary and middle school level to determine the growth in reading and mathematics.

8. What is your opinion of the 2007 personal leave bill, which, had it passed, would have allowed teachers to take personal days without being docked $50 in pay? What guidance would you give state legislators on crafting a bill?

Change the school calendar law and build in days whereby teachers may take personal days without being docked.

9. Special-needs and gifted children present unique educational challenges to the district. Evaluate how the district is meeting the needs of these children. How could the district better meet their needs? What are the obstacles to these goals and how can they be surpassed?

Statewide, we are seeing growth in the performance of special needs students but not as much progress for gifted children. Additional resources are needed to address the unique educational challenges of these students. We must make greater use of technology in offering additional courses throughout the state. Examples include the delivery of courses from the North Carolina School of Math and Science to students located in other parts of the state and online community college online courses. Virtual high school courses need to be expanded.

10. What steps, if any, would you advocate to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students and to reduce dropout rates?

Redesign high schools to make them more relevant. Expand career-technical education (vocational education) and arts education. Follow-up studies show that students stay in school because they have access to courses in these areas. Place greater emphasis in reading through middle school. Expand technology use to all classrooms and pre-school programs for at-risk students. Expand early college opportunities and Communities in Schools programs—a proven drop-out prevention program. Expand internships and offer summer reading programs. Provide extra help and community support. Address the root causes of why students drop out of school.

11. More North Carolina students speak English as a Second Language. How can schools improve bilingual skills in all students—native English speakers included? What funding and teaching resources would the state need to make these improvements?

Expand categorical allotments for ELL students. Focus on the teaching of a second language at the elementary and middle school levels. Have the public university system graduate more teachers who are proficient in more than one language. Expand dual immersion programs that have proven effective in several parts of the state. Employ research-based practices in expanding programs.

12. Some school districts, such as Wake County, have requested waivers for class sizes. What is your opinion of these waivers and under what conditions should exceptions be made? What alternatives could be used to keep class sizes at optimal levels? What teacher-student ratio would you suggest?

Waivers should be granted only when the disruption of moving students outweighs the exceeding of a maximum class size requirement. Each case should be decided, based on the circumstances and the students involved. Research has shown that a lower teacher-student ratio is especially advantageous for at-risk students. Research by a former University of Virginia professor gives some excellent alternatives for keeping class sizes at optimal levels.

13. Several charter schools are failing or need significant improvement. What is your view on charter schools? Should the current cap on their number remain or be increased/decreased? What additional accountability should be required of these schools?

The cap on charter schools should remain the same. As is now the case, public charter schools should be held accountable for student achievement. The business and instructional charter outcomes approved by the State Board of Education when the charter was issued should also be a part of accountability. The current charter requirements should be revised to include a greater focus on innovation, a component of the current charter school law.

14. The Johnston County School District recently banned one book and further scrutinized its library collection for other books it deemed unacceptable. What is the state’s role in evaluating districts’ efforts to ban books? What is your opinion of book banning in public schools?

North Carolina state law requires local boards of education to adopt written policies to be followed in the selection and purchase of books. A local board of education may also establish a community media advisory committee to investigate and evaluate challenges to books in media centers. Teachers should assign books that are developmental appropriate for students, and parents should be a part of the decision making process over controversial books. As stated by the American Library Association, the “freedom to read is essential to our democracy.” My views about library collections align with the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement.

15. The N.C. Education Lottery has failed to generate revenues for schools as originally estimated. What is your opinion of using lottery money for education? If you support it, how can schools claim a larger piece of the revenues that are coming in? If you don’t support it, how do you propose to make up the revenue?

Lottery funds should never be viewed as the primary source of funding for public education. Public education is over an $8 billion enterprise. Lottery funds, even in the best years, would not yield a sufficient and stable funding stream to support public education adequately. Funding of public education must come from the revenue available to the General Assembly. The lottery must be viewed as a supplement to help accomplish some goals such as scholarships and More at Four expansion.

16. As member of the Council of State, you would have input on the issue of the death penalty, including the execution protocol, which was taken up by the Council last year. Do you feel qualified to vote on such issues? If so, how would you vote on the execution protocol and other death penalty matters that may come before the Council? And is the Council of State an appropriate body to deliberate these issues?

Current state law requires the Council of State to approve the execution protocol. This law needs to be changed to so that the General Assembly will make that decision, subject to the court system’s review. When this issue came to the Council of State, I voted against the execution protocol.