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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. Results vary, but bullying and lack of student respect remain problems at Hillsborough schools


    The Hillsborough County school district has released school-by-school results of the past year's climate survey, allowing for comparisons from one school to another.

    Giant caveat: This year, because students were so over-burdened with state testing, the district decided to give the survey to a sample of students and not all 207,000. Officials said they are confident the sample was large enough, especially for identifying districtwide trends. But responses came from only about 30 percent of the students....

  2. Meet Hillsborough County's new principals


    Students at these schools will be greeted by new principals for the 2015-16 year. Here's a look at who they are and what they have done so far:

    Boyette Springs Elementary: Tamethea Simmons, 37

    Simmons joined the district in 1999 as a teacher at Riverview Elementary. She also taught at Sessums and Collins elementaries before becoming assistant principal at the USF Patel Partnership Elementary in 2009. She worked most recently as assistant principal at Lincoln Elementary....

    Gary Brady
  3. Hillsborough School Board suspends teacher accused of duct-taping student's eyes


    TAMPA — Without discussion, the Hillsborough County School Board voted 6-0 on Tuesday to suspend a music teacher accused of duct-taping a kindergartener's eyes.

    The next step: firing teacher Lindsay Blanc.

    The 29-year-old, who earns $42,000 a year, remained on the payroll and was working at the district's Manhattan administrative center. But as of the board's vote, she was suspended without pay. In April, she was removed from the classroom at Potter Elementary School because of the duct-tape allegation....

    Monica Vann hopes the district will provide psychological counseling for her son.
  4. Symmes Elementary gets a new principal


    Anna Rothenbush will be the new principal of Symmes Elementary School, subject to a Hillsborough County School Board vote this afternoon.

    Rothenbush, 41, replaces Julie Hasson, who resigned.

    Rothenbush joined the district in 1996 as a teacher at Essrig Elementary. She also taught at Gibsonton and Symmes before being promoted to assistant principal at the Riverview school in 2009.<...

    Symmes Elementary School Principal Anna Rothenbush
  5. Hillsborough approves new school discipline plan over worries from teachers, principals


    TAMPA — Even after three out of six members said they had "reservations," the Hillsborough County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to make sweeping changes in how students are disciplined at school.

    One of the eight area superintendents will have to sign off on suspensions of more than five days. Students will not be suspended for being late. And "inappropriate behavior" — a vague but commonly used label — will no longer be an offense....

    &#8220;We didn&#8217;t get into this business to see students fail. We got into this business to help students be successful,&#8221; Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins said Tuesday. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]&#65279;
  6. More teachers will be let go for lack of credentials


    Another group of teachers are up for termination at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting for failing to comply with certification requirements, and once again they were concentrated largely at high-needs schools.

    Sixteen of the 21 had been assigned to so-called Title I schools, which get federal aid because of poverty in their communities. Of the 16, six were at the poorest "renaissance" schools including three at Middleton High School. The group fired in June also included two from Middleton....

  7. ... also Tuesday


    At least one new principal will be named at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting. Julie Hasson, the principal of Symmes Elementary School in Riverview, has resigned, and the board plans to name her replacement.

    The meeting, which we will live-tweet, could be eventful.

    The board is set to vote on the student handbook, which contains changes recommended by a task force on minority student discipline. At week's end members Melissa Snively and Doretha Edgecomb said they wanted to study the changes carefully, and Snively said she looks forward to a thoughtful discussion Tuesday -- and perhaps beyond....

    Symmes Elementary School in Riverview will get a new principal to replace Julie Hasson, who resigned.
  8. School discipline changes could come soon in Hillsborough


    By Marlene Sokol

    TAMPA — The numbers showed black students in Hills-borough County were getting suspended at roughly twice the rate of white students.

    The federal government launched an investigation. A task force was assembled with members from the teachers union, nonprofit organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Now, more than two years after the School Board held its first workshop on student discipline, the board is poised to sign off on sweeping reforms Tuesday. ...

  9. Mom: Kindergartener was "traumatized" by teacher duct taping him


    TAMPA — The kindergarteners at Potter Elementary School liked music teacher Lindsay Blanc. She was "nice," they said. She let them watch movies.

    But there was another side they described when police visited in April and interviewed 19 children.

    If you were "bad," they said, she put you in the corner. If your behavior didn't improve, she would threaten to "tape you up" with one of many rolls of colored tape she kept to section off the classroom floor....

    The Hillsborough County School Board is expected to fire Lindsay Blanc, pictured during an after-school program in 2013, at its meeting Tuesday, stemming from an allegation that she duct-taped a 5-year-old's eyes on April 21. [Times files (2013)]
  10. The discipline plan -- what stayed in, what was left out


    A little while ago the Hillsborough school district posted the revised Student Handbook the board will vote on Tuesday.

    As the agenda reads, they are voting on the handbook, not a discipline plan. But some of the changes that have been discussed and debated for two years are contained in the book....

  11. And more about discipline, this time from a judge


    Think the Hillsborough schools are too lenient?

    Take a trip to Circuit Judge Denise Pomponio's Wednesday drug court. 

    That's when she does intake for juveniles. "I talk to them about how long they have been using drugs, how they are doing in school, their home life and everything else," Pomponio said.

    Soon after she began this assignment about four years ago, she noticed a trend....

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Denise Pomponio, who oversees juvenile judge court, wants the school district to keep kids in school and, after their suspension, help them catch up.
  12. School district: Tampa teacher duct-taped kindergartener's eyes


    TAMPA — An elementary music teacher could lose her job next week because of an allegation that she punished a kindergarten student by putting duct tape over his eyes.

    Lindsay Blanc, 29, is accused of immorality, incompetency and misconduct in office, according to the Hillsborough County school district's office of professional standards. The School Board is set to vote Tuesday on whether to fire her....

  13. Another point of view about Hillsborough's discipline plan


    More about the discipline plan that is coming before the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday:

    Ted Hamilton, a parent in Lutz, addressed the board recently about behavior problems in his daughter's high school. He has since moved her to another school, but here is some of what he wrote in a follow-up letter to the Tampa Bay Times and School Board member Cindy Stuart....

  14. Public defender Holt will help Hillsborough schools cut down on student suspensions and arrests


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt has joined the movement to keep children in school and out of jail.

    Appearing Tuesday at the School Board workshop on student discipline, Holt volunteered her attorneys to meet with students, train educators and arrange for advocates when a child is questioned in a case that could turn criminal.

    "The principal or the assistant principal is clearly conflicted," said Holt, who has been the county's elected public defender for 23 years and sent her own two children through public schools....

    Defender Julianne Holt said perhaps her office could help advocate for students.
  15. Hillsborough discipline plan, who likes it and what it lacks


    Hillsborough is two meetings away from radically changing what it does when students are unruly at school.

    The first is a School Board workshop at 9 a.m. Tuesday in which they can discuss the plan but not vote. We'll live-tweet that discussion.

    The second one is a school board meeting July 28. At that one, they can vote.

    The changes, taken together, are intended to push schools toward helping kids instead of removing them. Principals will be given a different way to categorize offenses. They'll have to jettison the overly vague "inappropriate behavior." If they want to suspend a child for more than five days -- or more than 10, cumulatively -- they'll have to check first with one of the district's eight area superintendents....

    Plant High School principal Rob Nelson warned against suspending a student for fighting on Monday and letting him return in time for the Friday football game.