Children’s book author. Former travel agent. First woman elected Superintendent.
June St. Clair Atkinson grew up and attended public schools in rural Bedford County, Va. and graduated from Staunton River High School in Moneta, Va. in 1966. She received a bachelor’s degree in business education from Radford University in 1969, a master’s degree in vocational and technical education from Virginia Tech in 1974, and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from North Carolina State University in 1996. After college, she taught high school in Roanoke, Va. and Charlotte, N.C. and worked part-time jobs at Central Piedmont Community College, Queens College, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Power Company, and Wide World Travel.
After teaching, Atkinson joined the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in 1976 where she worked for nearly 28 years. During this time she served as a chief consultant and director in the areas of business education, career, and technical education, and instructional services. In 2005, Atkinson was the first woman elected state superintendent of the public schools in North Carolina. Atkinson sued Governor Beverly Perdue in 2009 when the Perdue appointed a chief executive officer of the public school system. The appointment reduced Atkinson to an “ambassador for education” and she contested the move under the North Carolina Constitution. A Wake County superior court judge ruled in her favor that same year.
In addition to her role as superintendent, Atkinson is also secretary and chief administrative officer of the North Carolina State Board of Education and a member of the Governor’s Education Cabinet. She is a member of many boards and commissions, including the Council of State and the North Carolina Career-Ready Commission. As a former business education teacher, Atkinson has been involved in teaching and curriculum development throughout her career. She is the past president of the National Business Education Association, and past president of the Southern Regional Education Board’s High Schools That Work. In 2001, she was elected by her colleagues to represent them as president of the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium. In addition, Atkinson was named president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a national nonprofit organization, in 2014. Atkinson has authored several children’s books and textbooks on technology and business education.
She is married to Dr. William Gurley, a Cary orthodontist and former assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. She has one sister, two nephews, and one niece. Atkinson enjoys reading, skiing, exercise, and the use of technology in futuristic ways.
Editor’s Note: EdNC will be posting leadership profiles on the policymakers influencing education in North Carolina. Recently, I met with a member of our General Assembly. He noted that upon becoming a legislator people started treating him like an object. I come from a family that values public service, period. You know our policymakers as politicians. I hope our profiles help you know them better as people. EdNC wants you to be comfortable walking into the legislature, interacting with the legislators, and participating in state government – it is your government after all.