Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson brought a pep rally-like atmosphere to John L. LeFlore Magnet High School Friday morning, even bringing out the Rattlers’ jazz band.

The school-wide assembly coincided with the end of standardized testing for high school juniors, who took the ACT college entrance exam earlier this week.

Test scores from those exams will determine the letter grade that LeFlore and other schools will be given next year and they will also affect which school is considered a “failing” under the Alabama Accountability Act.

LeFlore was one of nine “failing” schools throughout Mobile County this year.

Richardson came to remind the students they are not failures, despite the state’s designation.

“I care about these kids,” Richardson said. “These kids need someone to care for them, and I care about what they do.”

With him, Richardson bought 700 buttons that showed the school colors of orange and green — each emblazoned with the phrase “We Will Not Fail” on the front.

The buttons, created by graphic artist Christy Gonzalez, serve a very important purpose, according to Richardson.

“I want to inspire these kids to do the best they can,” he said. “I want to inspire these kids to be the best they can be.”

The councilman told the students a brief story about his school experience growing up during segregation. From first to ninth grade, Richardson said he attended a two-room schoolhouse in Conecuh County where the teachers did not have degrees.

“It was a failing school, I attended,” he said.

After completing the ninth grade, Richardson said he was bussed to a training school — one he also described as “failing.”

“Do you think that was enough to fail Fred Richardson?”asked the students. “No.”

He told the students he later graduated from the University of South Alabama with honors.
Richardson said he was prepared to make buttons for any county school that wanted them. The first buttons were purchased without government resources, he said, but buttons for others schools could possibly be paid for out of the discretionary funding he controls as a councilor.

On the issue of failing schools, four of which are in Richardson’s district, he said the number would have to be reduced.

“We can’t keep going down the same path,” he said. “We’ve got to do better.”

Recently, city officials have been discussing the idea of studying the feasibility of a city-run system in Mobile. Richardson said he’d be in favor of a school split if such a study showed it was necessary. He mentioned that a non-profit organization would be behind any study, but didn’t go into specifics.

Jason Johnson contributed to this report.