The decision was almost as easy as flipping a coin: no lockers.
Last fall, Steve Halter, principal of Ashdown Junior High School in Ashdown, Ark., decided the time had come to address tardiness and discipline problems between classes.
As a former assistant principal at the town's high school, he realized that most problems occurred between classes when students spent a lot of time at lockers, gabbing to friends and sometimes getting into fights.
To eliminate these distractions, Mr. Halter and Jim Gentry, principal of Ashdown High School, decided at the beginning of the school year to remove the lockers.
"We've always had problems in our schools with students being tardy and not getting to class on time, as well as having arguments in the locker area, which is normal," Halter says. "Mr. Gentry and I sat down and thought that if we could alleviate the problem of students getting into trouble or being late for class, the students could then get back to concentrating on learning."
When the bell rings, the 800 students enrolled in both the junior and senior high schools simply get up from one class and walk to the next. All they need are paper and pen, and most students carry book bags as well.
A set of textbooks is kept in each classroom and another set is issued to students to keep at home. Although it means having twice the number of books, the benefits, including students no longer forgetting or losing books, outweigh the extra cost, says Gentry.
"It's better this way," says ninth-grader Teresa Teehee. "We aren't late to class anymore. There's not that pressure to hurry. We still get to talk to our friends a little, not as much though. The good thing is that we get started on time and seem to be getting more out of class."
But without lockers, students don't get to socialize as long between classes, nor do they receive a longer lunch. Next year, the schools plan to cut the time between classes from five to three minutes. Students may receive some compensation for their quickness to class if the principals shorten the school day by six to seven minutes.
Not all students like the new policy. "I really miss talking to my friends between classes. I don't think that's a good thing. It seems like studying all day," says eighth-grader Martelle Fields.
But school officials point to the new policy's benefits. Halter once spent his time issuing 15 to 20 tardy slips a day. Now, two or three are unusual. Teenagers no longer hang out in the locker bay, an area now off limits to students.
"In the past, we had students jammed into that one area," Halter says. "If a conflict broke out, then all the students gathered and looked. You couldn't get to them. We have just taken the opportunity to get rid of trouble."
Halter heard about the elimination of lockers at education conferences. He says schools in Arizona and Texas have also tried the no-lockers plan.
Halter credits the Ashdown School Board for approving the project, which at first looked expensive. Cost factors often stop school districts from enacting such a program. But in the long run, the cost in Ashdown was not that high since most schools already buy additional textbooks.
On the home front, students no longer have the excuse "I left my books at school" to avoid homework assignments. And the wear, tear, and destruction of books have come to a virtual halt.
The lockers still stand in the schools, and Superintendent Dickie Williams is reluctant to pull them out just yet. He says the plan is working for now, but he wants to make sure it will last. "If we go in and pull out the lockers and then five years down the line a new principal wants lockers back in the school, then we will have a big expense."
"Lockers gave students a place to store things they didn't need," Gentry says. "It's amazing how much it has helped ... the school be more effective and efficient at teaching."