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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. Email her at

Phone: (813) 226-3356

  1. High-poverty schools continue to wear on teachers, surveys show


    TAMPA — School districts offer cash bonuses. They hire teacher coaches. They appeal to the idealism of educators who want to make a difference.

    But the proof is in their own data: It's hard to teach at a high-poverty school.

    There's less buy-in from parents. Kids don't follow the rules. There aren't even enough computers. And staff turnover is sky high.

    "We have 32 new teachers on board," said Krystal Carson, principal of Potter Elementary School in east Tampa, which is struggling with behavior and other issues....

  2. Survey shows the challenge of teaching at Hillsborough's poorest schools


    Survey data released by the Hillsborough County school district this month confirms what a lot of people probably assume -- it's hard to work at a high-poverty school.

    Scanning the teacher responses at the district's more than 200 schools, you can find schools in South Tampa and the suburbs where virtually everyone is happy (Claywell Elementary, Grady Elementary, Lithia Springs Elementary). In these settings, teachers answered positively to questions about work conditions, leadership, community involvement and student behavior more than 90 percent of the time. That compares to 79.8 percent for the district as a whole....

  3. Hillsborough might add students to its school board


    TAMPA -- The Hillsborough County School Board will consider expanding its ranks to include at least one non-voting student.

    Member Cindy Stuart suggested the change during Tuesday's board meeting and asked Acting Superintendent Jeff Eakins to research the issue. With unanimous support of the board, Eakins agreed to report back to the board in July. A workshop is planned in September.

    While Stuart suggested adding one student member, some wonder if that is enough, given the size of the district....

  4. Students might join Hillsborough school board


    In keeping with the mantra of students first, Hillsborough County might add a student -- or more than one -- to the school board.

    Member Cindy Stuart raised the idea near the end of Tuesday's board meeting. The new member would not have a vote, but would bring a student perspective to district decisionmaking, she said.

    Chairwoman Susan Valdes said the district is so large, "I almost think that we should each have a student rep."...

  5. Key allegation was never discussed when Hillsborough School Board reinstated teacher


    TAMPA — When they voted last week to let a middle school teacher keep his job, Hillsborough County School Board members did not discuss the most shocking aspect of the case — an allegation that his half-brother had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old student at his house.

    The allegation did not result in an arrest, and lawyers agreed it should not be discussed.

    By a 4-3 vote, the board ended an effort by district administrators to fire Adam Reynolds, 43, from his job teaching physical education at Ben Hill Middle School in Carrollwood....

    Carter Reynolds, 18, is a teen sensation through venues such as YouTube and Vine, attracting hordes of young girls at his meet-and-greets. His 43-year-old half-brother, teacher Adam Reynolds, appears with him in some of the short videos, emphasizing that he is Carter's brother and not his father. [notvine]
  6. Transcripts show how embattled teacher kept his job


    The Hillsborough County school district thought it had a strong case against Ben Hill Middle School gym teacher Adam Reynolds.

    But, in an unusual move, the School Board voted 4-3 last week to reinstate him.

    While board members declined to comment on their decision, these transcripts from May 7 and May 12 shed some light on their decision....

    Teacher Adam Reynolds poses with his half-brother, Carter Reynolds, in this social media picture
  7. In survey, Hillsborough teachers say they get limited use from test data


    TAMPA — They test kids and test kids. But a growing number of Hillsborough County teachers say the results aren't ready in time to help them do a better job.

    The problem is most pronounced for state test results, according to this year's anonymous survey of the county's public school teachers.

    Only 57 percent of teachers agreed that "state assessment data are available in time to impact instructional practices." That's a seven-point drop from last year's results. When the same question was asked about local test results, 80 percent agreed, a six-point drop from 2014....

  8. Not enough time to use test data, Hillsborough teachers say


    They test kids and test kids. But a growing number of Hillsborough teachers say the results aren't ready in time to help them do a better job.

    The problem is especially severe for state test results, according to this year's anonymous teacher survey. Only 57 percent of teachers agreed that "state assessment data are available in time to impact instructional practices." That's a seven point drop over last year's results. When the same question was asked about local assessment data, 80 percent agreed, a six point drop over the 2014 response....

  9. Hillsborough, Pasco school officials hesitate to eliminate tests like Pinellas did


    The growing trend of Florida school districts eliminating hundreds of local year-end tests has yet to hit Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

    Pasco officials said Tuesday that they'd like to provide relief to students, as their Pinellas County counterparts announced plans to do this week. But they're hung up on how to handle teacher evaluations, which must include a way to measure student performance....

    A group of students voluntarily packs the computer lab in the media center at
Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday to participate in an after-school algebra tutorial to make sure they're prepared for the state's end-of-course exam. [BRENDAN FITTERER   |   Times]
  10. Middle schools need help, Hillsborough officials say


    TAMPA — Middle school — and how to fix it — has become a priority for the Hillsborough County school superintendent and some members of the School Board.

    At a workshop Tuesday, board members discussed a number of possibilities, from extending elementary schools through sixth grade to converting more schools to a K-8 format.

    "Middle school is where we're seeing kids exit," said board member Cindy Stuart, who is concerned about the high number of families choosing charter schools instead. One clear reason, she said, is that "all of a sudden (middle school students) are being asked to do a lot more, when they were very hand-held in elementary school."...

    School Board member Cindy Stuart sees kids leaving for charters.
  11. Hillsborough school leaders search for clues to lagging graduation rate


    TAMPA — Trying to improve Hillsborough County's lagging graduation rate, acting superintendent Jeff Eakins started with a question: What is keeping kids off the stage?

    He pulled data on the 26.5 percent of students who were high school freshmen in 2010 but did not get diplomas in 2014 — everything from state test scores to how many times they were suspended.

    Among the findings: Holding students back a year doesn't work. Sixth-grade reading scores are a bellwether for success. And your grade-point average in ninth grade is a pretty good indicator of whether you will go the distance. ...

    Hillsborough school superintendent Jeffrey Eakins looked at data from all students who would have been a part of the Class of 2014.
  12. The numbers behind Hillsborough's non-graduates


    Hillsborough acting superintendent Jeff Eakins pulled these statistics recently while analyzing possible barriers to high school graduation.

    Retention (for all students from the cohort enrolled in HCPS in 2001-02)...

  13. Student is caught with a loaded gun at Greco Middle School


    TEMPLE TERRACE — A student at Greco Middle School was caught with a loaded gun Monday, police said.

    No one was injured in the incident shortly after noon. Another student tipped off school personnel about the gun, and the school security officer called the Temple Terrace Police Department, said police spokesman Michael Dunn. Officials confiscated the .22 caliber revolver, which had one bullet, and arrested the 14-year-old student after a brief struggle. The police are not naming the student....

  14. Scholars are named in Hillsborough


    The Hillsborough County Public Schools announced their National Merit, National Achievement and National Hispanic finalists on Friday. They will be honored at a School Board recognition meeting on May 12.

    In all, there were 79 scholars named:

    Blake High School: Derek A. Roura (National Hispanic)

    Bloomingdale: Tanner K. Chastain, Joseph P. Gallagher, Sean P. Monaghan (National Merit)...

  15. It's official: Eakins is Hillsborough's next superintendent


    TAMPA — Years of conflict — in the board room, on the campaign trail and behind closed doors at school district headquarters — officially came to a close Tuesday as the Hillsborough County School Board named Jeff Eakins as its next superintendent.

    Eakins, just shy of his 50th birthday, signed a two-year contract that will pay him $225,000 annually to start.

    "It's a win-win situation for the community and the taxpayers," said board chairwoman Susan Valdes, who clashed with Eakins' predecessor, longtime schools chief MaryEllen Elia....

    Jeff Eakins’ two-year contract will pay $225,000 annually.