Cecil Picard *
Inducted on March 10, 2001
Cecil J. Picard was the third longest serving state superintendent of education in Louisiana history, and the catalyst for many nationally recognized educational initiatives, including Louisiana's Accountability Program and the LA 4 Pre-K initiative.
Picard began his life on Jan. 1, 1938, in Maurice, the son of Romain and Evangeline. He grew up on the grounds of Maurice High School, where his father served as principal. Picard often recounted peering into the school's windows as a boy, too young to attend classes, curious to see what the teachers and students were doing inside. Picard later recalled thinking that he never wanted to follow in his father's footsteps as an educator, knowing the difficult realities of leading a school.
Despite his misgivings, Picard graduated from Maurice High School and set off to achieve a degree in upper elementary education from Southwestern Louisiana Institute, which later became the University of Southwestern Louisiana and then the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He also earned a master of arts degree in administration and supervision from Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville, Texas.
In 1959, Picard began his educational career as a teacher at LeBlanc Elementary School in Erath. He became a teacher and coach at Maurice High School in 1962; but upon his father's death in 1969, he stepped into his father's position as principal and leader of the school.
Picard always believed that education needed to be a top priority in Louisiana, but he knew if he wanted to have an impact, he would have to leave the schoolhouse for the statehouse to accomplish his goals. So, in 1976, he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives.
In 1979, he was elected to the Louisiana Senate, where he served a combined 20 years as a legislator. He was a longtime member and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Education. He also served as chairman of the Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs and the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs. As a member of the Senate, Picard was lead author of more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed numerous education reform initiatives aimed at improving education in Louisiana, including the Educational Employees Professional Improvement Program (1980), the law requiring mandatory kindergarten (1984), the Children First Act (1988) and the law creating Louisiana's first Early Childhood Opportunity Program (1992).
Picard became state superintendent of education in 1996, making him the third longest serving superintendent in Louisiana history, behind Thomas H. Harris (1908-40) and Shelby M. Jackson (1948-64). Picard worked closely with five governors and eight administrations, including those of Governors Edwin Edwards, Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster and Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. He was scheduled to retire effective May 1, 2007.
During his tenure as the state's top education leader, Picard transformed Louisiana from one of the worst-performing states academically, to one of the nation's leaders in education reform. Picard led the way in developing Louisiana's Accountability Program, which is currently ranked number one in the nation by Education Week magazine. Under his leadership, Louisiana was also ranked number one in the country for its efforts to improve teacher quality and has shown improvement in almost every national indicator available, including ACT scores, NAEP tests, the Iowa Tests and the state's LEAP and Graduation Exit Exams.
After Hurricane Katrina, Picard greatly assisted impacted school systems in their recovery efforts, especially in New Orleans. However, Picard considered his most important contribution to be the creation of Louisiana's pre-K program for at-risk students, LA 4, which is now a model for the nation in early childhood education. Although education was his lifelong endeavor, his happiness came from spending time with his family (particularly his four grandchildren), duck hunting with his friends and sons and traveling the world with his wife. He had an affinity for sharing good wine and cigars with his friends. He also loved thoroughbred horse racing, a passion passed on to his children and grandchildren.
Picard was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in May of 2005. He aggressively battled the disease since his diagnosis, including participating in experimental drug trials in hopes of prolonging his health -- a battle in which he was not successful.