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. Retired Hillsborough school exec rehired after tense debate


    TAMPA — It started as a discussion about the fiscal wisdom of hiring back government employees who have retired.

    But in a flash, it became racial.

    Leaders of black organizations in Tampa lined up at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting to support the rehiring of Lewis Brinson, 62, a recently retired assistant superintendent who is black.

    Lawyer Warren Hope Dawson was there. Tampa Organization of Black Affairs board member James Ransom was there....

  2. New principal named at McDonald Elementary


    Jessica Hessler is the new principal of McDonald Elementary School. She last worked as assistant principal of Mango Elementary. The Hillsborough County School Board approved her appointment at its meeting Tuesday.

    Hessler, 35, joined the district in 2002 as a teacher at Pizzo Elementary. 

    Jessica Hessler is the new principal of McDonald Elementary School
  3. Ex-school leader may be lured out of retirement


    TAMPA — To counter a wave of retirements, the Hillsborough County school district is working with a contracting firm that could bring back retired assistant superintendent Lewis Brinson.

    Under this scenario, Brinson, 62, would be rehired temporarily through DES of Florida, district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said Friday.

    The School Board, after some discussion, voted Sept. 30 to hire DES and is scheduled to vote on the action involving Brinson at its meeting Tuesday....

  4. Contract would bring back retired Hillsborough administrator


    To counter a wave of retirements, the Hillsborough County school district is working with a contracting firm that could bring back assistant superintendent Lewis Brinson. Under this scenario Brinson, 62, would be re-hired temporarily through DES of Florida, district spokesman Stephen Hegarty confirmed Friday.

    The board, after some discussion, voted on Sept. 30 to hire DES, and is scheduled to vote on the action involving Brinson at its next meeting Tuesday. The firm also arranges temporary assignments for teachers who leave through the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and are difficult to replace....

  5. "Specialists" become "coaches" in Hillsborough


    Four months after Hillsborough renamed "dropout prevention specialist" to "student success specialist," the title is about to be tweaked again.

    Subject to a School Board vote Tuesday, these school employees will hence be known as "student success coaches."

    It's all part of an effort to provide multiple supports to the kids who most typically fall through the cracks in middle and high school. At each of 52 Hillsborough schools, "success teams" are collaborating to assist the highest-risk 100 students, based on factors that include attendance, behavior, grades and whether the student is over-age....

  6. Four Hillsborough school employees face discipline Tuesday


    TAMPA — Adam Reynolds thought it would be fun to introduce some of his middle school students to his brother Carter, a popular social media personality.


    The pizza party Reynolds organized at Carrollwood's Ben Hill Middle School in April is now the subject of a Hillsborough County School District investigation that could cost the 43-year-old physical education teacher his job....

  7. Hillsborough teacher takes a parting shot at the evaluation system


    After 25 years with the Hillsborough County school district, Gaither High School reading teacher Michaela Meyers turned in her resignation recently, citing frustration with the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers evaluation system.

    EET, now in its fifth year, has been praised for reducing the turnover in new teachers, who benefit from mentors.

    But longtime teachers have not always embraced it. The evaluations by peer teachers and administrators use a rubric inspired by educational scholar Charlotte Danielson. Combined with a value-added score, they yield a numerical assessment and, in some cases, a call for corrective action. One teacher, Mary Borne, has a pending lawsuit because she had two "unsatisfactory" ratings, leaving the district no choice under state law but to fire her. Critics of EET say that although the teachers can write their reflections on the process, there is no grievance procedure if they are dissatisfied with the results. Meyers was told she needed a support team and action plan....

  8. Hillsborough district will appoint a new principal and settle two employee lawsuits


    The Hillsborough County school district, pending board approval Tuesday, will settle two employee lawsuits for a total of $10,050.

    Elena Casas sued the district in early 2013, alleging the district violated her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act. Casas also accused the district of discriminating against her based on a disability when she was denied a request for a light duty assignment, according to a litigation summary from the district's law firm.

    Casas left the district in 2010, after her leave expired, according to the report. When she tried to return later that year, the district said she was not eligible for a teaching position because she had not passed an examination she needed to obtain a professional educator's certificate.

    Her case is being settled for $8,000.

    Maria Castillo alleged in her February 2014 lawsuit that the district fired her in retaliation for filing a workers compensation claim.

    The two sides are settling this case for $2,050....

  9. Hillsborough begins school bus driver training, promises raises


    TAMPA — The healing for Hillsborough County's ailing school bus system began Monday, a student day off, at King High School.

    Superintendent MaryEllen Elia promised an auditorium full of drivers that, subject to a School Board vote, they will all get pay raises.

    New transportation general manager Jim Beekman spoke of service, quoting Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr....

    School bus driver Anna Brown writes down techniques for correcting student behavior Monday during a transportation training day at Tampa Bay Technical High. More than 1,000 transportation employees met for the sessions at two locations.
  10. Questions and answers with Hillsborough's new school bus chief


    Jim Beekman, 53, just wrapped up his first week as the head of transportation for the Hillsborough County School District. He has read some, but not all of the media reports about last year's worker complaints. He has ideas for fixing the driver shortage and says kids are far safer on a bus than in their parents' cars. Here are excerpts from a recent interview he gave to Tampa Bay Times education writer Marlene Sokol....

  11. Kemple attacks Snively's Republican, conservative credentials in School Board race


    TAMPA — Seeking to round up every last conservative vote in his bid for a Hillsborough County School Board seat, Terry Kemple has issued a point-by-point comparison that shows he is farther to the right than insurance agent Melissa Snively, his opponent in District 4.

    She's not even a longtime Republican, Kemple is telling voters. She was a Democrat, then changed parties in 2012, kind of a reverse Charlie Crist....

    Terry Kemple has issued a point-by-point comparison of himself and Snively.
  12. On the School Board campaign trail in Hillsborough


    With the elections just over two weeks away, school board primary candidates have been stating their preferences for those who made the runoff.

    Paula Meckley, who got 17,050 votes in countywide District 6, is endorsing Dipa Shah over ...

  13. Hillsborough gets $7.5 million in anti-violence grants


    Since early 2013 the White House has been making money available to reduce gun violence, and $7.5 million of it is on its way to Hillsborough County.

    The district was awarded two grants, each totaling $3,750,000 under President Obama's Now Is ...

  14. Hillsborough County School Board: District 2


    School Board | District 2

    Michelle Popp Shimberg and Sally Harris are vying for a seat that will be vacated by longtime member Candy Olson. Both have been active school and community volunteers, and Harris also has experience teaching and running a preschool and child care center. This is Shimberg's first try for public office and Harris' second. By Marlene Sokol, Times staff writer...

  15. Hillsborough County School Board: District 4


    School Board | District 4

    Melissa Snively, running for the first time, is up against Terry Kemple, who is running for the third time. Both have business backgrounds, are politically conservative and oppose Common Core. Snively is former chairwoman of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce. Kemple heads up the Community Issues Council and has been at the forefront of Christian conservative issues in Hillsborough. By Marlene Sokol, Times staff writer...