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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. More IB diplomas are earned in Hillsborough this year


    The Hillsborough County school district reported high numbers of its International Baccaulaureate students earning IB diplomas this year.

    Hillsborough High School increased to 97 percent, up 1 percentage point from last year

    King High School maintained its 90 percent-plus diploma rate since its inception by posting a 92 percent diploma rate this year.  Robinson High School maintained a 95 percent rate. Strawberry Crest High School increased to 96 percent, up from 94 percent....

  2. Middleton High School is still without a grade


    In the large batch of school grades and test scores that were released in recent weeks, this stuck out at Middleton High School:

    An "I" grade, one of 101 among more than 3,000 schools in the state. The "I" follows a string of C's for the East Tampa school, home to a technology and engineering magnet.

    "Incomplete" grades happen for one of two reasons, the Department of Education said: Not enough students took their state tests, or there was suspicion about the validity of the tests based on how they were administered....

    Middleton High School in Tampa has an "Incomplete" school grade. The state says not enough students took their FSA and EOC exams.
  3. Hillsborough school district loses another communications chief


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District is again without someone to run its communications department, which some consider the weakest link in the large organization.

    School Board members have consistently given superintendent Jeff Eakins his lowest ratings in communications as the district weathers massive financial hurdles coupled with increased competition from privately managed charter schools....

    Teresa Peterson has resigned as communications and media officer for the Hillsborough County School District after two months on the job. She has been named executive director of communications for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. [Hillsborough County Public Schools]
  4. Teachers are warned of "dire" finances at Hillsborough's opening bargaining session


    TAMPA — Nearly two months late before they even sat down, the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers' union started pay negotiations Thursday for the 2017-18 school year.

    That's this year, with students streaming into the schools on Aug. 10. Eighteen months ago the two sides agreed they should start the process during the first week in May to avoid having it drag on into the winter holidays....

    Bargaining began Thursday between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers union. MARLENE SOKOL | Times
  5. In Hillsborough, a social worker tasked with helping kids has troubles of her own


    CLEARWATER — As a social worker for Hillsborough County schools, Marissa Mitchell holds one of the system's most sensitive jobs, helping children navigate deeply personal family problems.

    But Mitchell has had issues of her own, including a broken marriage and an ugly dispute with her mother-in-law that led to allegations of stalking, and earlier this month landed her in Pinellas County Jail....

    Marissa Mitchell, recently released from Pinellas County Jail, is a social worker for the Hillsborough County public school system.
  6. Teacher bargaining begins in Hillsborough


    Negotiating will begin Thursday for nearly 20,000 workers represented by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

    And it could get interesting.

    Teachers have been saying, loudly and on social media, that they expect nothing less than the pay plan the district rolled out as it implemented the 2009 Gates Foundation reforms. That pay plan, which took effect in 2013, calls for $4,000 raises every three years to teachers who are graded at least satisfactory, which is almost always the case....

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins greeting teachers at a training event in 2015
  7. A new principal in Sulphur Springs K-8


    Who will fill Julie Scardino's shoes at Sulphur Springs K-8 School?

    The Hillsborough district went all the way to Chicago to replace her.

    Chantel Angeletti comes from Byrne Elementary School, where she has worked since 2015.

    Before that she worked as a lead teacher, instructional support leader and assistant principal at schools in Chicago.

    Scardino is now the principal of Egypt Lake Elementary...

  8. Robert E. Lee Elementary Take II


    Near the end of Tuesday's 3 p.m. School Board meeting, there could be another discussion of Robert E. Lee Elementary, a predominantly African American school in Tampa Heights that is named for a Civil War Confederate general.

    The school renaming issue is on the agenda as an information item. The applicable district policies - including the one that makes renaming a school an 18-month process -- are here....

    This gentleman did not speak at the last Hillsborough County School Board meeting, just observed as others debated the suitability of Robert E. Lee as a name for an elementary school.
  9. Gibson, what it means so far


    In response to questions asked at last week's Hillsborough County School Board budget workshop, the administsration issued this report on what it has done so far to implement recommendations from the Gibson Consulting Group.

    The three reports covered a lot of ground, and some areas show more progress than others....

  10. Teacher hiring freeze is lifted in Hillsborough


    Teachers, come work in Hillsborough County!

    A teacher hiring freeze, imposed eary this month so the district could take stock of which vacancies it needed to fill, has been lifted, effective Tuesday, Superintendent Jeff Eakins said Monday.

    But that only goes for classroom vacancies. Vacancies outside the classroom are still frozen. And bus driver hiring never stopped.

    About 500 jobs are affected by Monday's decision. "We want to ensure we are focusing on the classroom and that our students have the best teachers in front of them on the first day of school," Eakins said....

  11. Charter schools and where they get their students


    If you were listening at the beginning of Tuesday's day-long Hillsborough County School Board budget workshop, you heard district leaders say they project 21,626 charter school students when classes resume in Aug. 10.

    That's a huge jump from the past year's 17,723, and about one tenth of all students.

    But charters are all the rage, and cutbacks in bus service for middle and high school students might be a game-changer for some families....

    Students eat lunch at Kids Community College in Riverview
  12. Hillsborough schools' budget woes were worse than we knew


    TAMPA — Two years after a financial meltdown that Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins refused to call "a crisis," he told a roomful of district employees just how bad things were.

    The main reserve account lost $83.6 million between 2014 and 2015. And that was after the district transferred $55 million in, much of it from a workers compensation fund.

    The nation's eighth-largest school district, it turns out, was on track to lose another $130 million or more the next year. "That would have put us below zero dollars," Eakins said Tuesday....

    Hillsborough schools superintendent Jeff Eakins told the School Board that he has outlined steps to prepare for the coming year.
  13. Speaker Richard Corcoran to Hillsborough schools: Stop blaming the Legislature while you waste money


    TAMPA — As it attempts to put its financial house in order, the Hillsborough County School District is being made a poster child for runaway public school spending.

    The accuser: Richard Corcoran, the Republican state lawmaker from Land O'Lakes and a driving force behind this year's sweeping public education bill.

    His message: The bill (HB 7069) is not why district officials are struggling to pay their expenses. Rather, Corcoran told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, "It's their bloat, inefficiency and gross over-spending. Their problem is their mismanagement."...

    Richard Corcoran said much of his criticism referred to the prior adminis?tration.
  14. Budget woes force the Hillsborough school district to rethink its role as a job provider


    TAMPA — At one time or another, five members of Carrie Williams' family have worked for the Hillsborough County School District.

    Three still do, all at Shaw Elementary School in North Tampa.

    Ashley Williams, 28, is a secretary. Savon Williams, 23, is an assistant teacher. Their mother, 47, is the principal's secretary.

    "I trained them not to call me 'Mom' at work," said Williams, a school district employee since 1999....

    With 26,000 people on its payroll, the Hillsborough County school district takes pride in its role as the area’s top employer. But budget woes are forcing the district to take a hard look at reducing its workforce. []
  15. Sunshine notice


    IMPORTANT: Anyone attending the Hillsborough school board workshop on the budget, a day-long event, will need to head east to the district's Silo Bend facility just east of Brandon.

    The board also is doing some of its business in committees and, since these groups have multiple board members, they are open to the public under the Sunshine law.

    Here's this week's lineup:...