Make us your home page

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 responds to another federal lawsuit


    Is lawyer Steven Maher reaching when he says Seminole Heights Elementary School showed an unconscionable disregard for student safety in the way it handled Keith Coty's illness? Or is there still a dangerous reluctance in Hillsborough to let staff call 911?

    Lawyers for the district denied nearly all allegations in the family's federal lawsuit. Keith, a first grade student, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died the next day. At issue is whether school staff did all they could to get him the emergency medical treatment he needed, and if they acted quickly enough....

    Keith Logan Coty, a first grader at Seminole Heights Elementary School, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in January 2014. His parents are suing the school district.
  2. Hillsborough district denies fault in death of Seminole Heights first-grader


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County school officials admit Keith Logan Coty was 6 years old, that he became ill while at Seminole Heights Elementary School on Jan. 16, 2014, and that he died the next day in a hospital.

    But attorneys for the district deny most of what Keith's parents allege in a lawsuit, especially that the district failed to train staff and, through a delay in calling 911, contributed to the child's death....

    Keith Coty, 6, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage Jan. 16, 2014, and died the next day in a hospital.
  3. Elia wins Women in Leadership award


    Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia is not leaving the American Association of School Administrators conference empty-handed.
  4. Clements is re-elected as Hillsborough teachers union president


    Jean Clements, the high-profile leader of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, has been re-elected for another term.

    Clements, 59, has been the president since 2002. She led the union during the recession, and during Hillsborough's transition to Empowering Effective Teachers, the Gates-funded evaluation and mentoring system. Before Clements became a union leader she taught exceptional student education and headed the ESE department at Plant High School....

    Jean Clements will continue on as president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
  5. Elia does not win national superintendents award


    TAMPA — MaryEllen Elia, a finalist for the national award of Superintendent of the Year, did not win the top title Thursday, as her supporters had hoped. Instead, the honor went to Philip Lanoue of the Clarke County School District in Athens, Ga.

    The American Association of School Administrators announced its choice of Lanoue, who has led the Clarke schools since 2009, at its annual convention in San Diego....

    MaryEllen Elia, 66, officially leaves in June but will use vacation time starting March 6.
  6. Hillsborough schools' plan calls for Eakins' superintendent contract to be negotiated by June 9


    TAMPA — The latest plan to hire a new superintendent for the Hillsborough County Public Schools calls for Jeff Eakins' contract to be negotiated by June 9.

    An agenda for Tuesday's meeting includes a discussion about hiring Eakins, a 25-year district employee who is now deputy superintendent, on the condition that the two sides agree on a contract.

    "June 9 is the last day when I would want to bring it before the board," said School Board attorney Jim Porter, who is in negotiations with an attorney for Eakins. The board has one other meeting that month — June 23 — before Superintendent MaryEllen Elia's contract expires on June 30. Eakins has agreed to step in as acting superintendent on March 6, when Elia will begin a vacation that will last for the duration of her term....

  7. Middle school English teacher is Hillsborough's teacher of the year


    TAMPA — Day after day Diane McKee told the student she believed in him. Never mind the low performance on a state reading test. She and the other teachers at Williams Middle School pulled together to help him.

    Finally, he earned a perfect score.

    "The joy and excitement on that child's face is the reason I teach," McKee told Hillsborough school district officials.

    McKee, 57, was named Teacher of the Year on Tuesday, chosen from more than 200 entrants and seven finalists....

    Lance Otto of Davis Elementary won the Ida S. Baker award.
  8. Buckhorn: Nothing wrong with calling School Board members "mean girls"


    In the heat of last month's firing of Hillsborough County schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn had some strong and gender-specific words for the School Board members who ran her off. "Mean girls" was one phrase he used.

    Might that characterization cost Buckhorn some female votes? Is he worried? Having second thoughts?

    Not so much.

    When asked about the quote during a party for Elia Monday might, Buckhorn had this to say:...

  9. Hillsborough superintendent Elia tells hundreds who bid her farewell: 'Elections matter'


    TAMPA — Albert Elia described the day he asked his future wife, MaryEllen, to accompany him to the prom. They were at an ice cream shop. She left in her car, pulling away so quickly that the ice cream flew off the dashboard.

    "I can tell you, at age 16, she never took her foot off the accelerator," Elia told a crowd of more than 800 who gathered at the Marriott Waterside Hotel to honor the departing superintendent....

    Hillsborough school chief MaryEllen Elia was feted Monday in Tampa. Her last day is March 5.
  10. Counselors are key to fixing discipline problems, Hillsborough school leaders say


    TAMPA — Nearly a dozen Hillsborough County school administrators were invited Friday to give their feedback on the district's problems with student discipline.

    But first they took time to vent.

    Don't believe kids are getting the guidance they need from adults at the schools — including counselors, who spend much of their time administering tests — they told a district task force addressing discipline issues....

  11. Student bill of rights will be considered in Hillsborough


    Due process for students?

    It exists under the law, according to members of a task force in Hillsborough on student discipline. But parents and students are often uninformed about their rights.

    At its meeting today, task force members will consider a student bill of rights that would be distributed as the district works through changes in student discipline.

    This is just a draft. The meeting and discussion begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association headquarters, 3102 N Habana Ave. They're open to the public....

  12. Winners of the Hillsborough LEAD contest


    More than 1,000 Hillsborough County students took part in this year's Lead, Empower, Advocate and Dream competition, which uses the arts and literature to honor local black leaders.

    Nine winners -- three in each category, also representing all three school age groups -- were honored Monday at the Tampa Museum of Art.
    First, the winning essays:

    Dejour London, a 3rd grade student at Lomax Elementary School, recognized Pastor Moses Brown. Kiana Antoine of Sligh Middle School wrote a tribute to Dallas Jackson, an artist who is also her school principal. Juwuan Livingston took his inspiration from Jamal Guiler, his football coach. You can read their essays here....

    Donovan Blake, Jr. of Alonso High School honored his father, Donovan Blake, Sr.
  13. Seven are in the running for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year


    This year's finalists for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year range in age from 27 to 64. They teach everything from restaurant manager in a career center to gifted reading in a South Tampa elementary school. They bring history alive, show up at their students' flag football games, arrange food for the home when there is none, and get struggling students interested in college. Each entrant was asked to answer a series of essay questions. These are some of their responses....

    Teacher of the Year finalists. There are seven. This is for the third alt. 

Susan "Darlene" Baker, Gorrie Elementary

Source is Hillsborough Education Foundation.
  14. Hillsborough schools deserve accreditation, but there's room for improvement


    The Hillsborough County school district should put more technology in students' hands and find ways to hire a more diverse workforce.

    But, overall, the district is ambitious and innovative, and meets the requirements for accreditation.

    Mark Elgart, lead evaluator for the team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, walked the School Board through his organization's findings Wednesday....

  15. Principal vacancies in Hillsborough


    The Hillsborough County school district is transferring and promoting principals, leaving vacancies at several schools.

    Included in the consent agenda for Tuesday's meeting are these appointments:

    * Barbara Mercer, principal at Apollo Beach Elementary School, will become an admnistrator on special assignment.

    * Principal Rebecca Sargable will transfer from Lanier Elementary to Collins Elementary School. She'll replace Steven Sims, who is opening the new Lamb Elementary....

    Jacqueline Haynes, principal of Blake High School, will become a principal coach