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. Graduation guests can expect gentler treatment in Hillsborough


    TAMPA — High school graduations will be calmer this spring, with a slightly more manageable schedule and gentler treatment of guests, district officials told the Hillsborough County School Board Tuesday.

    Instead of four graduations each day, on most days there will be three. On days when there are four, they will begin at 9 a.m. to allow more time for guests to come and go, said Tanly Cabrera, the district's director of administration....

  2. Tinker expansion gets thumbs-up as MacDill charter idea becomes a memory in Hillsborough


    The plan for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base wasn’t just put to rest at Tuesday’s Hillsborough County School Board meeting: It was stomped on with boots.

    Even though the proposal was withdrawn before the meeting even started, a contingent from the base community turned out to praise a plan the district offered in its place: Expanding Tinker Elementary School, which is on the base, to include grades 6 to 8....

    Board members were shown an artist's conception of the expanded Tinker Elementary School
  3. Promotions and appointments in Hillsborough


    Gregory Cannella, principal of McDonald Elementary School, has been named Supervisor of Technology Training for the Hillsborough County school district. Cannella joined the district in 1997 as a music teacher at McDonald. He was assistant principal of Doby Elementary before he was named principal of McDonaldin 2011.


  4. MacDill charter school group withdraws its bid


    TAMPA — Plans have been scrubbed to build a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, a leader of the charter group told the Hillsborough County school district Monday.

    Instead, according to a letter to the district, base commander Col. Daniel Tulley is supporting plans to expand Tinker Elementary School, which is on the base, to include grades 6, 7 and 8.

    The charter group, headed by Tampa lawyer Stephen Mitchell, did not rule out trying again in the future for a second school....

  5. When all else fails, parents of special-needs students turn to social media


    TAMPA — A chance meeting in a Sarasota restaurant put Amanda Taylor, the mother of a special-needs student, in touch with activist Jon Singer.

    Taylor described the frustration she was having getting her daughter the services she needed at Robinson Elementary School in Plant City.

    Singer, who works in financial services and splits his time between Sarasota and New Jersey, offered to put her story on his Facebook page. Taylor approved the scathing diatribe against the Hillsborough County School District, packaged with pictures of 8-year-old Alexis....

  6. MacDill school charter plan might be dropped before Tuesday, Hillsborough official says


    TAMPA — The proposal for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base might not be considered Tuesday after all, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.

    District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said he was told the charter group wants the item taken off Tuesday's meeting agenda. District officials were waiting for a written request Friday afternoon from Stephen Mitchell, the Tampa attorney who chairs the MacDill school organization....

  7. Graduating without a diploma: Preventive measures in Hillsborough


    Students who walk across the stage at the Florida State Fairgrounds without a true diploma do so for a variety of reasons.

    But the most common, by far, is a sub-par score on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

    That's what the Hillsborough County school district told board members in a memo this week. Member Susan Valdes, in particular, has been asking what can be done about the so-called "certificates of completion," which mean a student earned enough credits to graduate but fell short of earning a diploma....

  8. School for homeless children will get new building


    Plans are under way to move the Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School in Hillsborough from rented space into its own building next August.

    According to a recent report to the School Board, the new school will open on land owned by the large charity just north of downtown Tampa.

    The school now serves 90 students in five rented classrooms in a nearby YMCA.

    The new two-story building will have eight classrooms, music and art rooms, a media and reading room with a computer and testing lab, a play yard, a gym and dining rooms for students and teachers. An estimated 152 students will attend....

  9. Charter school backer: We're waiting for the MacDill commander's word


    In their recommendation against the MacDill Charter Academy application, Hillsborough officials wrote that they don't even know if the new base commander wants a charter school. They're right, said Stephen ...

    Col. Daniel Tulley, took over recently as base commander at MacDill Air Force Base. Unlike his predecessor, Col. Scott DeThomas, Tulley has not taken a public position on plans for a base charter school.
  10. Hillsborough district again gives thumbs down to MacDill charter school plan


    TAMPA — For the second time in less than a year, the Hillsborough County school district is poised to reject a proposal for a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base.

    The School Board is set to vote Tuesday, but the elected body rarely — if ever — overrules the administration on charters.

    Proponents of the tax-supported K-8 school, which would be operated by for-profit Charter Schools USA, said it would meet the needs of military families, who move often and undergo emotional stress in wartime....

  11. Hillsborough teacher arrested, accused of selling drugs to deputy three times


    TAMPA — Three times, officials say, an undercover sheriff's deputy bought drugs from Joye Jones, a physical education teacher at Lewis Elementary School.

    The first buy, at 12:15 p.m. on Aug. 26, was in the parking lot of a McDonald's restaurant 1.8 miles from the Temple Terrace school. Jones allegedly sold the deputy 45 hydrocodone pills for $1,000.

    The second, on the afternoon of Sept. 2, was near a skating rink on N Armenia Avenue. This time officials say the drug was another painkiller: 84 oxycodone pills for $2,570....

    Joye Jones, 40, sold pain pills three times to an undercover Hillsborough deputy, officials say.
  12. Hillsborough County's schools growing, but not as fast as charters


    TAMPA — Charters are the big winners again this year as families continue to move into Hillsborough County and many opt for the tax-funded but independently operated public schools.

    Of the net growth of 4,736 students, about one-third were in charters. Their 12 percent growth rate was five times that of the district as a whole, which now serves 206,099 children.

    Nearly 700 students signed up for five new charter schools. In southeast Hillsborough's district-run schools, there was a similar surge in elementary school enrollment, with 632 more students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. A new elementary school, Thompson, opened in Ruskin to accommodate the growth, and at least two more are on the horizon....

  13. East Hillsborough School Board race has conservative focus


    BRANDON — There is a truism about eastern Hillsborough County: When it comes to politics, you can't tack too far to the right.

    That adage is being tested this fall as Terry Kemple, possibly Hillsborough's best-known Christian conservative activist, makes his third run for the School Board.

    He ran districtwide the first two times and lost, although he notes that in 2012 he would have prevailed if the votes were confined to District 4....

    Terry Kemple, 68, possibly Hillsborough’s best-known Christian conservative activist, ran districtwide for the School Board twice and lost, although he notes that in 2012 he would have prevailed if the votes were confined to District 4.
  14. Hillsborough's Florida Standards lessons will be on CBS Sunday


    It's known locally as Florida Standards. Elsewhere, it's still called Common Core, and it persists as a hot political topic.

    On Sunday morning, CBS news will air a program on the movement that was filmed largely in Hillsborough County.

    Scheduled tenatively to appear at 9 a.m., the show will include footage of a classroom at Rampello K-8 student and at a parent meeting at Grady Elementary School, one of many Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has held around the state....

    Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, shown here in Ruskin, has been travelling around Hillsborough County to answer questions about Common Core and the Florida Standards. Her appearance at Grady Elementary School will be shown on a CBS News show Sunday.
  15. About those alternatives to the Hillsborough ticket sale calls...


    Much as people might complain about those automated phone calls, in this case selling tickets on behalf of the Hillsborough County school district, the options aren't always popular either.

    Gradebook heard from Susan Whitaker, the mother of a high school student and a recent high school graduate, who did not like the suggestion of using paper flyers instead....