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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. Hillsborough students will get free rides on HART buses


    TAMPA — Middle and high school students can ride the buses in Hillsborough County for free between March 1 and June 10.

    The Hillsborough County School Board approved the agreement with the Hillsborough County Commission and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) at the school board's meeting on Tuesday.

    The partnership is designed to encourage more students to take advantage of public transportation and get in the habit of using transit instead of driving....

  2. Edison Elementary gets new principal


    The Hillsborough County School Board named Marc Gaillard as its next principal of Edison Elementary School in East Tampa.

    Gaillard replaces Beverly Smith, who was recently named principal of Lee Elementary.

    Gaillard, 46, joined the district in 1998 as a teacher at Oak Park Elementary School. He worked for the Patel and Eastside Multicultural charter schools before he returned to the district in 2002 to teach at Edison. He worked for a year as an administrative resource teacher at Just Elementary before returning to Edison in 2008 as assistant principal....

    Marc Gaillard is the new principal of Edison Elementary School in East Tampa.
  3. Eakins: Acknowledging a Christian group's contributions does not equal an endorsement


    Seeking once more to clarify the district's position on faith-based partnerships -- as well as his own -- Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins submitted this guest column to all of the area's newspapers.

    The fine points:

    1. He and his staff are committed to being inclusive and respectful to students from all backgrounds....

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins thanked First Priority for its contributions to school culture. But such remarks do not equal an endorsement, he said in his essay.
  4. At long last, School Board chairwoman April Griffin is a college graduate


    April Griffin knows how to win an election and chairs the governing board for the eighth largest school district in the nation (Hillsborough County's.)

    But something was always missing. A college degree.

    Now she has one.

    On Tuesday Griffin picked up the diploma from Eckerd College, where she graduated recently with highest honors. Her Bachelor of Arts is in organization studies, with a public leadership track. "I worked hard for this," Griffin said Tuesday....

    April Griffin picked up her diploma from Eckerd College on Tuesday. She's been a member of the Hillsborough County School Board since 2006.
  5. A day at the theater


    About 60 children from Hillsborough County elementary schools were treated to a matinee performance of The Lion King at the Straz Center for Performing Arts on Thursday.

    The excursion was the culinating event of a partnership between the Straz, the Patel Conservatory and Ed-Venture, a program in the Hillsborough County school system that seeks to boost academics at Potter, Just, Booker T. Washington and Miles elementary schools through cultural activities, often during an extended day....

    Kids from four Hillsborough schools catch a performance of The Lion King after studing about theater in Ed-Venture
  6. Boundary change at growing Hillsborough elementary school


    Stowers Elementary School grew by 136 students this year, and now it's time for the Hillsborough County school district to redraw some boundaries.

    A community meeting is planned Feb. 9, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the school, 13915 Barrington Stowers Drive in Lithia. Parents are encouraged to attend.

    Serving the sprawling FishHawk Ranch community, Stowers is seeing the effects of economic recovery and an overall boom in southeast Hillsborough....

    Crowded Stowers Elementary in southeast Hillsborough will get relief if the School Board approves boundary changes
  7. Griffin is a graduate


    It took a few years, but Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman April Griffin has her college degree.

    On Tuesday, following a visit to the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board, Griffin drove to St. Petersburg to pick up her diploma from Eckerd College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts with high honors. She majored in organizational studies with a public leadership track. "I worked hard for this," she said....

  8. Eakins: Hillsborough school district reviewing relationships with faith-based partners


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins and School Board Chairwoman April Griffin said Tuesday that the district is re-evaluating its relationships with faith-based organizations in light of recent criticism from civil rights organizations.

    Beyond the legal issues, Eakins and Griffin said they want organizations to conduct themselves in ways that do not offend families of different faiths....

    “I represent all our kids in this district,” Hillsborough school chief Jeff Eakins says. [SKIP O’ROURKE | Times] 
  9. Churches in the public schools


    In response to Tampa Bay Times reports about First Priority Tampa Bay and Idlewild Baptist Church, officials of the Hillsborough County Public Schools have been reviewing their relationships with area churches, to make sure they are legal and appropriate....

    Several faith-based organizations help Middleton High School in East Tampa
  10. The icon: It's everywhere


    Hillsborough County's culture icon, showing the district's eight core values, took center stage in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade float constructed, in part, by students at Riverhills Elementary School.

    These photos, which can be viewed on the district news site, show students working with the district's maintenance department on the float's components. The school cultural icon an octagon with labels that include "service learning" and "student leadership," has been Superintendent Jeff Eakins' go-to visual during speaking engagements since he began his term on July 1....

    The parade float featured the district's culture icon, which features core values including student leadership and conflict management
  11. Eakins: All groups that help kids get my support


    Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendant Jeff Eakins took some heat after his remarks last week at the annual meeting of First Priority Tampa Bay, an organization that seeks to instill "the hope of Christ in every student" -- sometimes serving free pizza along the way.

    His response: All groups that help students get the same recognition and encouragement....

  12. Eakins: I support all groups that support kids


    Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendent Jeff Eakins has had some backlash following his remarks last week in support of First Priority Tampa Bay, an organization that seeks to put "the hope of Christ in every student," sometimes serving free pizza along the way....

  13. After a long wait, Hillsborough teachers will get pay raises


    TAMPA — Halfway into the school year, about 20,000 employees of Hillsborough County Public Schools will get pay raises that, for many, recognize work they did last year.

    The School Board on Tuesday approved a contract with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, which represents teachers, teacher aides and other school-based employees.

    Teachers will get increases that were negotiated previously as the district implemented a new evaluation system. They'll be retroactive to July 1, the start of the contract year....

    Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is surrounded by more than 1,200 new teachers at a welcome event in August, before the start of the 2015-16 school year. Extended talks between the teachers union and Eakins’ administration finally resulted in approval of a contract Tuesday by the School Board. Teachers will receive their long-delayed pay raises soon. [SKIP O’ROURKE  |   Times]
  14. Hillsborough school bus driver in crash had past citations — but in her vehicle


    Hillsborough County school bus driver Marilyn Ray never had a problem driving a bus and had perfect evaluations, according to records released Thursday, the day after her bus accident in Riverview.

    But records also show she's had four moving violations in her personal vehicle. The most recent was in 2008, when she was cited for careless driving after a crash. The judge withheld adjudication in that case and in a 2003 ticket for failure to yield right of way. The other two, a 2006 ticket for obstructing traffic and a 2007 speeding ticket, resulted in convictions....

  15. Standards? We have standards, Hillsborough district says about church-school involvement


    Following two recent articles about religious organizations that get involved in the Hillsborough County Public Schools, the district's information office assured us that the relationships are subject to thorough scrutiny to make sure students' rights are protected.

    The district shared three documents: guidelines for faith-based organizations, a community partnership agreement and a coordinator's guide concerning community partnerships....

    Students at a First Priority pizza lunch in 2014 at Robinson High School