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

Email: sokol@tampabay.com

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  1. Better, worse schools to be black in Hillsborough

    Blog

    The graphic raised eyebrows when it was displayed at Friday's task force meeting on racial disparities in discipline in Hillsborough County.

    Shown in color, it compared recorded incidents of "inappropriate behavior" among black students to those of whites and Hispanics. The numbers for black students are in the middle, and some reacted strongly to the Wharton High School example.

    But the graphic, while showing a stark comparison between the races, does not take into account the minority populations at those schools. Gradebook did a quick calculation that measured the likelihood of a black student at each of the 27 high schools to get in trouble for inappropriate behavior, a term that is sometimes considered vague and subjective....

    Members of a Hillsborough task force on racial disparities in discipline have been meeting and looking at data for more than a year.
  2. Harris, Shimberg bring decades of experience to Hillsborough School Board race

    K12

    TAMPA — Everybody knows the drill at Circle C Ranch. When the covers come off the platters of food, Petunia the pig wanders into the party.

    "She'll knock the table down," said Hillsborough County School Board candidate Sally Harris, while everybody at the rustic preschool tried to ignore the gathering storm clouds — and the fact that Harris is widely considered the underdog in the race....

    Sally Harris and her son David Cloud feed Petunia the pig at Harris’ meet-and-greet Wednesday at Circle C Ranch Academy. She is the owner of the Tampa preschool.
  3. All is quiet as Hillsborough charter talks continue

    Blog

    Things have been quiet lately between the Hillsborough County school district and Charter Schools USA, and officials say that's a good thing.

    After Superintendent MaryEllen Elia put the organization on notice in July that she would terminate charters at Woodmont, Winthrop and Henderson Hammock, panic ensued. Elia calmed things down by promising parents the schools would not close...

  4. Hillsborough responds to two discrimination complaints

    Blog

    In recent months the Tampa Bay Times reported on two ongoing federal investigations of the Hillsborough County school district, both involving allegations of discrimination.

    Here are some of the district's responses, one involving single-gender schools and the other on the issue of racial disparities in discipline and educational opportunity.

  5. Hillsborough County School District hires bus chief from Orlando

    K12

    TAMPA — Jim Beekman will be the new head of transportation for the Hillsborough County School District, taking charge of a large department coming out of months of turmoil.

    The School Board approved his selection unanimously Tuesday.

    Beekman has run the Orange County school bus system since 2010. He worked his way through Florida Southern College as a mechanic, said Hillsborough facilities chief Chris Farkas. He joined the Osceola County School District in 1983 and spent 25 years working in the transportation department there....

    Jim Beekman will have to deal with a driver shortage and a fleet that is one of the state’s oldest.
  6. Hillsborough board will meet at 3

    Blog

    Who will be in the driver's seat when the Hillsborough County School Board names a new transportation chief? Gradebook will live-tweet this and other developments at today's meeting.

  7. Hillsborough school district names finalists for new transportation chief

    K12

    TAMPA — At its first meeting since the start of the new school year, the Hillsborough County School Board will name a transportation chief today.

    The new general manager will replace John Franklin, who resigned in April. Chris Farkas, the district's facilities chief, has been running the transportation department ever since.

    As of Monday, district officials had narrowed the field to five candidates and were having last-minute conversations with their first choice, whom they would not identify....

  8. Electronic grade reports and teacher aides remain under discussion in Hillsborough teacher talks

    Blog

    Edsby, the Hillsborough County school district grade reporting system, is completely reliable.

    Or is it?

    Bradley Woods, principal of Wharton High School and father of two middle school students, says it is.

    Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the teachers union and a mother of two, says it isn't.

    Back and forth they went Monday afternoon as the union and administration discussed a long-running issue: Should teachers be required to post regular updates on Edsby?...

  9. Hillsborough security department, now expanding, was investigated twice in last two years

    Blog

    TAMPA — Around the time Hillsborough County school officials were debating whether to ramp up security after the Sandy Hook shootings, the department that would carry out the expansion was wrestling with its own problems.

    Allegations swirled about threats and bad management in the district’s security department, as well as the potentially improper practice of accepting gifts from vendors, according to a report released recently by the department’s new chief, John Newman....

    A Hillsborough County Schools officer stands in front of Cahoon Elementary School in Tampa after the shootings in Newtown, Conn in December 2012. A month later, superintendent MaryEllen Elia proposed placing guards in all elementary schools.
  10. Investigations examined Hillsborough school security department

    K12

    TAMPA — Around the time Hillsborough County school officials were debating whether to ramp up security after the Sandy Hook shootings, the department that would carry out the expansion was wrestling with its own problems.

    Allegations swirled about threats and bad management in the district's security department, as well as the potentially improper practice of accepting gifts from vendors, according to a report released recently by the department's new chief, John Newman....

    A Hillsborough County Schools officer stands in front of Cahoon Elementary School in Tampa after the shootings in Newtown, Conn in December 2012. A month later, superintendent MaryEllen Elia proposed placing guards in all elementary schools.
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  12. Hillsborough school transportation is better, but work remains

    K12

    TAMPA — Bus transportation is improving for nearly 100,000 public school children in Hillsborough County, but work remains for a district rocked this year by harsh assessments from a consultant and its own workers.

    Members of an advisory council assembled by superintendent MaryEllen Elia say there are fewer complaints this school year from drivers and parents. Student behavior continues to be a challenge, but drivers are getting more assistance from newly hired administrators housed at their area offices. Buses are arriving largely on schedule, something that often doesn't happen until late September....

  13. Hillsborough expands the reach of federal Title I money

    Blog

    Federal anti-poverty dollars are going to 163 schools in Hillsborough County this year, serving 98,656 students, or roughly half the students in the district's public, charter and private schools.

    Statistics submitted to the school board show an increase in the number of so-called "Title I" schools that are eligible for assistance based on income. New to the list are: Lewis, Sessums, Summerfield Crossings and Thompson elementary schools; Brandon, King and Plant City high schools; the Caminiti Exceptional Center and these charter schools: Advantage Academy Elementary, Advantage Academy Middle, Florida Autism and Henderson Hammock.

    The Title I program, which dates back to the Johnson administration, seeks to close the achievement gap between rich and poor by funding for extra services such as tutoring and counseling. By law, it cannot replace state education dollars for core expenditures such as hiring teachers.

    A preliminary budget of $67 million includes $6.5 million to pay teacher pay differentials at schools with the highest poverty rates and $1.5 million for the extended-hour Ed-Venture programs at Just, Potter and Washington elementary schools.

    The greatest share - $44.2 million - will be divided among qualifying schools in a formula that considers the percentage of students who qualify for free lunch. Those schools will use the money to meet goals in their improvement plans - for example, by hiring resource teachers, academic intervention specialists, reading coaches, guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists.

    Including charters, the district counts 163 Title I school this year....

    Henderson Hammock Charter School in Citrus Park also is eligible for Title I funds, as are other charters in the district.
  14. Hillsborough school bus driver takes sleeping special needs child to wrong school

    K12

    TAMPA — A Hillsborough County school bus driver failed to notice a sleeping special needs child and brought her to the wrong school, the district acknowledged Thursday.

    Officials said no one was injured in the mishap, which happened as the district seeks to improve special needs transportation.

    But an investigation will follow, with possible discipline against the driver and the aide, assuming the bus had one....

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