Early childhood education advocate Dr. Ramona Paul dies

OKLAHOMA CITY – Ramona Paul, former Oklahoma superintendent of public instruction and the leading advocate for expansion of early childhood education in the Sooner State, died last weekend.

According to a press release from the state Department of Education, Dr. Paul suffered a heart attack while on vacation in Idaho. News of her passing moved quickly around education circles and among state policy leaders on Monday (July 1).

With a couple of brief stops elsewhere, Paul worked at the state Department of Education from 1988 until her retirement in 2011. Her advocacy of expanded early childhood education made her a national figure; the state was applauded for its policy developments over the decades of her public service. Rutgers University analysts and others touted as models the programs she pioneered during her work at the agency.

She served as a faculty member at Oklahoma State University, Texas Women’s University in Denton, the University of Alabama, and Purdue University. Dr. Paul earned her Ph.D. from Purdue and was also a graduate assistant during her time at Iowa State University.

In 2009, she was named Oklahoman of the Year by Oklahoma Today magazine. She was the first educator and first state government employee to earn that designation.

Then-editor Louisa McCune-Elmore commented, “To say that she has created a better future for Oklahoma is an understatement, and we believe telling her story is a step toward creating the best schools in our nation.”

Dr. Paul was closely allied with former Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett, and often credited Gov Brad Henry and his wife Kim for their support of her work. Tulsa businessman and philanthropist George Kaiser provided private support for expansion of the early childhood education models she supported.

State Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, commented on her death in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK: “Dr. Ramona Paul was widely recognized as the leader in early childhood reforms for Oklahoma and is one of the key reasons our state has one of the top ranks in the United States for early childhood education. Her efforts and compassion for students were key components to the many successes we have seen in recent years with these programs.

“Ramona was a good friend to many educators and policymakers and will be greatly missed. I send my condolences to her husband and other family members.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, in a statement from her office, commented, “I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dr. Paul. She is the pioneer who made early childhood education possible for the state of Oklahoma. We want to recognize all of her tremendous contributions to the profession and to students and families throughout our state.” 

The mother of three sons (Steven, Stuart and Jerry), Dr. Ramona Paul also had four stepchildren with her husband of many years, Homer.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.