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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. Newest Hillsborough school gets a principal


    Derrick McLaughlin was hired Tuesday to head up the Hillsborough County School District's newest elementary school.

    Now known as "Elementary C in Riverview," the new school will ease crowding in the high growth area, drawing from elementary schools that include Collins, Boyette Springs, Sessums, and Summerfield.

    McLaughlin, 36, has been with the district since 2002, when he was hired as a teacher at Mintz Elementary School. From there he moved to Tomlin Middle and Bryan Elementary as a teacher, then to Summerfield Elementary as an assistant principal and principal....

    Derrick McLaughlin will be the principal of what is now called "Elementary C in Riverview." He comes from Summerfield Elementary.
  2. Courtesy busing cuts clear the Hillsborough School Board, affecting 7,500 students


    TAMPA — After an hourlong debate, the Hillsborough County School Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to end bus transportation for nearly 7,500 middle and high school students who live within 2 miles of their schools.

    Opposing the move was member Melissa Snively, whose east Hillsborough district includes 2,300 of the students affected by the cost-cutting measure.

    Close to 1,000 live in upscale FishHawk Ranch, where streets already are gridlocked every morning with school traffic....

    Students unload from buses at Lennard High School in Ruskin. Lennard has 183 students who receive courtesy bus rides, which are being phased out next year by Hillsborough County school officials to save money. [LOREN ELLIOTT  | Times]
  3. Testing relief for high schoolers in Hillsborough


    High school students in Hillsborough County will see testing relief this spring as the school district continues to chip away at duplicate exams.

    More than a dozen classes, from AP French to IB Visual Arts, are affected by the change.

    "By the reduction of these exams, schools and students will have less stress over having to take duplicate testing in these courses," Superintendent Jeff Eakins wrote in a memo last week to School Board members....

  4. Teachers are moving in Hillsborough County


    The Hillsborough County School District has filled more than half its 200 teacher vacancies through a "redeployment" of nonclassroom teachers.

    The redeployment, a key component in the district's drive to save $130 million in yearly spending, affected subject coaches, resource teachers, even some assistant principals.

    As of Friday, spokeswoman Tanya Arja said there have been 130 transfers, and only 80 vacancies remain....

  5. Never too early


    Fresh from the James-Gray recount, the first of the 2018 candidates for the Hillsborough County School Board have filed their papers.

    Randy Toler and Bill Person are both are seeking the District 6 at-large seat now held by April Griffin.

    This is the third School Board run for Toler, who got 11 percent in an eight-way primary for the District 7 seat in August.

    Person, who is running for the second time, came much closer in this year's bid, finishing a little more than one percentage point behind incumbent Susan Valdes....

    Green Party member Randy Toler has been in more elections than he can count. He will try a third time for an at-large Hillsborough County School Board seat in 2018.
  6. Three charter schools set sights on Hillsborough


    Three more charter schools are up for approval in Hillsborough County, backed by names that are familiar in charter school circles.

    The Collaboratory, a planned K-8 school that would serve central Tampa with an emphasis on math, technology and the arts, has Trey Traviesa and Suzanne Legg on its founding board.

    Traviesa, now a consultant, is a former state lawmaker who became a proponent of charter schools. Legg is the wife of former legislator John Legg. She and her husband were co-founders of Dayspring Academy for the Education and the Arts, a successful charter school venture in Pasco County. In fact, the Tampa school will be a replication of Dayspring....

    Dayspring Academy students work on a radio broadcast in 2015. The successful school, founded by John and Suzanne Legg, is being replicated in Tampa. MICHELE MILLER | Times
  7. School bus transportation could end for nearly 7,500 Hillsborough students next year


    TAMPA — Nearly 7,500 students in Hillsborough County's middle and high schools could lose their bus rides in the next school year as the district continues to cut spending.

    The students are "courtesy riders" who live within two miles of their schools. That's the point at which the state considers transportation a parent's responsibility.

    The changes, which take effect in August, represent part of a plan that will extend later to elementary schools....

    Students unload from buses at Lennard High School in Ruskin. Lennard has 183 students who receive courtesy bus rides, which are being phased out next year by Hillsborough County school officials to save money. [LOREN ELLIOTT  | Times]
  8. It's official: Lynn Gray joins the Hillsborough County School Board


    Lynn Gray, a former teacher and long distance running coach, will be sworn in on Tuesday as an at-large member of the Hillsborough County School Board.

    The Supervisor of Elections made Gray's victory official Friday afternoon, after a validation and recount process that for Gray, an accomplished marathoner, must have felt like a 28th mile.

    The recount was necessary under state law because on Election Day, Gray's 1,205-vote lead over opponent Cathy James was less than a half a percent of all votes cast in the race. That lead grew to 1,233 after election officials sorted through the provisional ballots. But the margin was still only 0.26 percent, which required officials to recount the more than 608,000 ballots, a record for Hillsborough....

  9. Officials will need until Friday or later to determine winner of Hillsborough school board race


    TAMPA — Election officials said Thursday they need even more time to determine who won the Hillsborough County school board seat in countywide District 7.

    More than 1 million pages could not be run through the scanners in time for a scheduled canvassing board meeting. So the counting will continue until Friday — or perhaps a bit longer.

    "It's an extraordinarily time-consuming process," said Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough elections office....

  10. What did the School Board say on Tuesday?


    Workshops of the Hillsborough County School Board are generally not televised, so people interested in racial equity and transgender rights were not able to follow the board's discussion Tuesday on proposed policies that might come for a hearing and vote in the spring.

    The policy on restroom use, introduced by Melissa Snively, was shelved, with only Sally Harris giving it half-hearted support (she wanted to see some major wording changes)....

    The Hillsborough County School Board spent much of Tuesday discussing possible policies on race, bathroom use and other sensitive issues.
  11. Race, and the election, come to the fore as Hillsborough School Board tackles new policies


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board showed Tuesday that, like the rest of the nation, it is slowly coming to terms with the social and political implications of last week's presidential election.

    Several board members and district leaders invoked the national climate while discussing a proposal by member Susan Valdes, who is of Cuban heritage, to pass a "racial equity" policy that would acknowledge institutional racism in the system and mandate steps to correct it. ...

    Data from the Hillsborough County School District show the discipline gap is narrowing between African-American and white students. [Hillsborough County School District] 
  12. Expulsion cases edge up in Hillsborough


    After six years of decline, the number of expulsion cases began to inch up last year in Hillsborough County.

    In all, 508 students were referred for expulsion or change of placement, compared with 458 in 2014-15 and 500 the year before that.

    East Bay High School had the most cases at 29 according to this detailed report that the Tampa Bay Times received on Monday. The greatest number, 14, were for assault and battery. Three of the East Bay students were in exceptional student education. Armwood came in second with 27 referred for expulsion, including one ESE student....

    East Bay High School had more expulsion cases than any other Hillsborough school in 2015-16.
  13. School Board race in Hillsborough County will go to a recount


    TAMPA — Three days after voters went to the polls, one contest remained unsettled in Hillsborough County at the close of business Friday — a match between two novice politicians who waged grass roots campaigns for a School Board seat.

    Cathy James, 58, and Lynn Gray, 64, emerged from a primary field of eight in countywide District 7 that included some candidates with generous backers and others with experience on the stump. James and Gray had neither. They spent about $61,000 combined....

    A Florida elections worker feeds a ballot into a scanner in 2010. A similar process will take place next week when the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections conducts a recount in School Board race between Lynn Gray and Cathy James.
  14. Another delay in Hillsborough school board election


    A Hillsborough County elections canvassing board meeting that was scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday has been postponed to 2 p.m. Friday so officials can make sure they have  sorted through all of the provisional ballots in the School Board race between Lynn Gray and Cathy James.

    "We have to do all of our due diligence," said Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Supervisor of Elections. ...

    Cathy James, an accountant, is running for Hillsborough County School Board in District 7.
  15. Hillsborough school board race has yet to be decided


    The outcome of the District 7 Hillsborough County School Board race, in which Lynn Gray is slightly ahead of Cathy James, will likely be determined Thursday evening.

    A canvassing board will meet at 5 p.m., said Gerri Kramer, communications director for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.By then, she said, about 1,400 provisional ballots - meaning those for which voter eligibility could not be immediately determined - will have been counted....

    Hillsborough school board candidates Lynn Gray and Cathy James posed together while campaigning at a Hispanic heritage festival in downtown Tampa. Now the two await a canvassing board decision and possible recount.