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Andrew Ledbetter is beginning to think maybe he's bad luck.

The Howard Middle School teacher taught for a semester at Chattanooga Middle Museum Magnet School before the local school board voted to close the building. Then he was moved to Howard, where he got in two full school years before the Hamilton County Board of Education voted in March to close that school.

If the same thing happens to his new school, Brainerd High, you'll know it was him, he said.

First, though, is dealing with the final days of Howard Middle, which closed Friday.

"I'm really going to miss these kids, and they're going to get split up," said Mr. Ledbetter, who taught the same group of students in sixth and seventh grades and was planning to teach them again in eighth grade.

As a way to help balance Hamilton County Schools' budget, board members voted to close Howard Middle and 21st Century Academy. The move created rumblings in the community that the board was picking on predominantly black schools.

But Schools Superintendent Jim Scales said that in the next several years seven other schools, all over the county, also would be affected by mergers and closings.

As Howard Middle's teachers are shuffled around the school district, their students will attend Orchard Knob or Dalewood middle schools or East Lake Academy next year.

It's a mix that some students say will create "drama and chaos," especially when students from longtime rivals Howard and Orchard Knob are put in the same building.

"There need to be more (resource officers) over there if we're going to be over there," said seventh grader Derelle Roshell, 13. "You can't mix East and South. You just can't."

While Mr. Ledbetter said he thinks the rivalry mostly is just hype, he understands why students are upset their school is closing.

Last year, the middle school legally became separated from the high school and met Adequate Yearly Progress standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Students and teachers were hopeful that standardized test scores would be high enough again this year and the school would be taken off the state's high-priority list.

"It's frustrating to work so hard toward a goal, totally turn things around, get them on track, and now they're back to square one. Those kids are heading to a brand-new school," Mr. Ledbetter said.

Robin Sturnes, the lead seventh-grade teacher, said all the school's teachers were shocked when they heard Howard Middle would be closed. After "working their tails off" last year, it was hard to come to terms with the school's closure.

"There wasn't a good enough excuse," she said. "Howard has history."

Principal Otto Taylor, an alumnus of Howard High, said he understands the community's attachment to the school. There is a feeling of "bittersweetness" because part of a tradition is going away, he said.

"But who's to guess the district?" he said. "The district is in financial straits and has to balance its budget."

When Hamilton County Schools' administrators discussed reasons for closing the middle school, they repeatedly cited the fact that the building originally was created for elementary school students. Repairs also had gone undone and the facility was in poor condition, they said.

Neither reason was good enough for Derelle.

"I don't think it was right for them to close it," he said. "If they didn't think it was an environment for a middle school, then they shouldn't have turned it into a middle school."

Seventh-grader Keondra Reed, 13, said she plans to return to Howard in ninth grade - as long as it still exists.

"This school had an elementary, then they took it down. It had a middle school, they took it down. What's next, the high school?"

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