Make us your home page

Marlene Sokol, Times Staff Writer

Marlene Sokol

Marlene Sokol has worked at the Times as a reporter, editor and columnist since 1988. After launching North of Tampa in 1996, she served first as its editor and later as a general assignment reporter specializing in the suburbs. She now covers education in Hillsborough County.

Phone: (813) 226-3356

  1. Hillsborough teacher survey finds trouble spots amid rosy overall results


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County public school teachers are happy. They feel safe in their schools. Principals give them the materials and help they need.

    That's the district's reading of this year's Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning survey, which shows rates of agreement to positive statements at 80 percent and above.

    But those are averages. A closer look at Hillsborough's neediest schools shows teachers are not so happy....

    McLane Middle School in Brandon, where 83 percent of the teachers say on a new survey that they enjoy working there. The numbers were lower in previous years when the school was struggling with violence. Today, other schools are suffering from low morale, even as overall numbers are positive across the Hillsborough County school district.  The Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning survey was administered between Jan. 9 and March 10. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  2. Eakins and Stuart: Veto the schools bill


    Here's the letter Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins and School Board Chairwoman Cindy Stuart sent this week to Gov. Rick Scott about House Bill 7069.

    It pulls no punches, and forget about any notion that Hillsborough has been selling out to the charter school movement....

    Jeff Eakins is Superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools.
  3. Hillsborough school superintendent turns down raise, gets three-year contract


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough School Board gave superintendent Jeff Eakins a new three-year contract, telling him at a meeting Tuesday evening that they were amazed he turned down offers of a raise.

    Eakins, who makes $225,000 a year plus benefits, refused to take a standard 3 percent increase after the first year of the new contract. He also declined, during negotiations, to consider the higher salaries of superintendents in other districts, leaving his pay rate unchanged....

    Hillsborough School District Superintendent Jeff Eakins will recommend new starting times at a special school board meeting today, although the schedule will not take effect until August 2018. [Times files (2015)]
  4. New principals at Lennard, Davidsen, Pierce (not so new at Pierce)


    The Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday approved these new principals:

    At Pierce Middle School, Pablo Gallego, 43. Gallego has been the school's acting principal since Raymond Padgett was transferred to the district's communications office in 2016. Gallego has been with the district since 2002. He taught at Bellamy and Morgan Woods elementary schools and became an administrative resource teacher at Pierce in 2012, promoted in 2013 to assistant principal. ...

    Pablo Gallego is now officially the principal of Pierce Middle School. He was acting principal.
  5. What happened to Van Buren Middle School?


    In a question-and-answer document to inform the community about a planned merger between Cahoon Elementary School and Van Buren Middle School, the Hillsborough district gave three reasons when asked why Van Buren is operating at 41 percent of capacity:

    Choice, families moving, and personal preference....

  6. Advocates say help is on the way for troubled Potter Elementary


    TAMPA — Children who live near Potter Elementary School will have a new option in August. An early learning center is opening just steps away, serving kindergarten and first grade, with plans to expand later.

    It's one of several projects under way to assist Potter, a four-time F school whose troubles have attracted widespread attention in recent months.

    With pastors pressuring the school district to do more for Potter, a new committee will link its kindergarten teachers with the preschools nearby. And Potter will become a teacher training site for the University of South Florida....

    Potter Elementary is a four-time F school whose troubles have attracted attention from local pastors and the school district.
  7. As graduation nears, student who once collapsed at Plant High reflects on life and loss


    TAMPA — Not everybody gets a second chance.

    Charlie Curtis knew that after he collapsed while running the mile in gym class at Plant High School.

    He's known it in the three years since, while spreading the word about the importance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

    He knows it even more this week, as the Class of 2017 prepares to graduate while mourning the recent deaths of two of its members, Katie Golden and Bella Galan-Valdes....

    MARLENE SOKOL | Times  Charlie Curtis, 18, points to the spot at Plant High School where he collapsed while running a mile in PE class three years ago. Emergency response practices revived him and now he's heading to college at the University of Florida.
  8. Hillsborough school district leaders are encouraged by teacher survey results


    NOTE: This story has been revised to correct errors in the first post.

    This is Part I of our report on Hillsborough's Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning report.

    Part II will include a school-by-school spreadsheet, which we are expecting any day now.

    The district did release the aggregate report that contains a lot of good news about how teachers feel about their jobs....

  9. Boundary changes affecting more than a dozen Hillsborough schools come to a vote on Tuesday


    TAMPA —After months of Facebook chatter and petition drives, parents and homeowners will get one more chance on Tuesday to try and talk politicians out of rezoning their children's schools.

    The Hillsborough County School Board plans to take up a complicated boundary plan at its 3 p.m. meeting. In all, it affects more than a dozen schools in affluent New Tampa and working-class North Tampa....

    Cory Lake Isles resident Riyaz Shaikh discussed his concerns about rezoning with Amber Dickerson, manager of planning and siting for the school district, during an April meeting.
  10. Eakins: Hillsborough schools budget will be 'very tight' if state legislation is signed into law


    TAMPA — Strapped for cash even before the Legislature voted this week to skimp on per-student funding, Hillsborough County's public schools are now bracing for more bad news.

    The state's proposed new budget could slow initiatives designed to help students meet graduation requirements, and even lead to a hiring freeze, superintendent Jeff Eakins said Wednesday.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Population growth will mean more debt and painful rezoning for Hillsborough schools...

    Photo illustration. [Times files]
  11. Bonuses are back


    The Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday will vote to renew Superintendent Jeff Eakins' contract.

    And, unlike the first contract, this one has something that incurred some criticism for his predecessor -- performance bonuses....

    Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins will be rewarded for boosting graduation rates according to a contract that will come up for a School Board vote on Tuesday. He's already presided over a 3-point increase.
  12. Riverview High teacher cleared after group claims she pushed gay rights on students


    TAMPA — A teacher at Riverview High School who was accused by a conservative organization of banning crosses while advocating for gay rights has been cleared of wrongdoing after a school district investigation.

    Lora Jane Riedas, who teaches freshman math and is faculty advisor of Riverview's Gay Straight Alliance, said she did not allow rosaries, as they are considered gang symbols and not allowed in the school dress code....

    Riverview High School math teacher Lora Jane Riedas was the target of a complaint by the Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian organization that said  Riedas, as student advisor of the school's Gay Straight Alliance, was bringing pro-gay politics into the classroom. The school district has cleared her of the allegations on Monday. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
  13. Hillsborough School Board Chair: Tell your rep to vote no on school funding bill


    Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman was one of several board members who stood with Superintendent Jeff Eakins to speak out against the state education bill that comes up for a vote late on Monday. Here is what she said about how the bill came together:

    "The process of a few individuals making decisions behind closed doors for all is very alarming. As elected officials, we must have transparency in all that we do, especially in something as important as investment in public education in our children....

  14. Eakins to lawmakers: Vote No on education bill


    Here are some of Superintendent Jeff Eakins' remarks at a morning news conference to oppose pending legislation about education spending: 

    "I first want to thank our legislature for their hard work this session and all that they do to support the students of Hillsborough County. But today I urge them to vote no on the education bill.

    Much has been made about the increase in K-12 funding. But a deeper dive into the numbers show an actual cut in base student allocations. Let me make this clear: The budget hurts our children and our schools by decreasing the funds that provide programs for our students. It decreases it by about $27 per student. These dollars are used to fund teacher salaries and benefits and add new programs for our students....

    Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins
  15. High School graduations are live on TV in Hillsborough


    High school graduation guests in Hillsborough County can skip the trip to the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall, if they wish, and watch the festivities live on television this year.

    The district will air all traditional high school graduations live on cable on the Tampa Bay Arts and Education Network (TBAE), officials annouced Thursday.

    Graduations also will be live streamed on the school district website for the second year in a row. That means family and friends who are out of town - including those on military deployment - will be able to see their loved ones walk across the stage....

    Armwood High School graduation, 2012