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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. As Florida charter schools grow, critics watch



    From dual-language kindergarten, when they are taught a pointer is un puntero, to the day they continue on to Lennard High School, students at the Redlands Christian Migrant Association charter schools get a specialized education.

    It conforms to state standards and, judging by the test scores, surpasses them.

    But the schools — an elementary and a middle grades "leadership academy" — also offer help with immigration issues. Families have access to a food bank on the Wimauma campus. And the staff keeps track of children who leave, following the migrant farm worker circuit to North Carolina and Tennessee....

    Teacher Carmen Vargas works with kindergartener Alexander Valdez at the Redlands Christian Migrant Association charter school in Wimauma.
  2. Teacher repeatedly in hot water for behavior around students — but no charges


    TAMPA — Administrators at two middle schools were troubled by the way Adam Reynolds, a physical education teacher then in his 30s, socialized with girls at school. Officials were squeamish when he made sexually suggestive TV commercials. They took action when he became online friends with female students. It was all on the up-and-up, Reynolds said.

    Then in April, a 14-year-old girl told her parents she had sex with Reynolds' 17-year-old half brother Carter at Reynolds' home. The teens met at an all-girl pizza party Reynolds hosted at school. The teacher, now 43, had the girls write down their Twitter and Facebook information so his little brother, an Internet celebrity, could follow them. ...

    Carter Reynolds, 18, is a teen sensation through his content on YouTube and Vine, attracting crowds 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 not Carter’s father. These photos are from a website called notvine.
  3. Panel on racial disparities in Hillsborough schools tries to get back on track


    TAMPA — Starting from square one, a task force on African-American students in Hillsborough County tried Monday to get to the heart of continuing disparities in learning and discipline.

    Task force members named a long list of issues including poverty, teacher turnover and varying opinions on punctuality.

    Should kids be suspended when they are late? "If you are tardy at work, you will be unemployed," said Lewis Brinson, who recently returned on a contract basis as assistant superintendent....

  4. Q&A with Hillsborough's Success Project administrator


    Shaylia McRae, 37, heads up the Hillsborough County school district’s new success teams initiative, in which counselors, teachers and people formerly known as dropout prevention specialists (now success coaches) work collaboratively with 100 at-risk students in each of 52 middle and high schools. Recently she spoke with Gradebook about the program....

    Shaylia McRae heads up the district's new success program
  5. Hillsborough task force on minorities will reconvene today


    A task force that is addressing disparities in discipline between white and minority students reconvenes today at 1:30 p.m. in east Tampa.

    The two hour meeting, which is open to the public, will be in the Hillsborough school district's Instructional Services Center, Room 128, 2920 N 40th St.

    Two task forces have met, off and on, for more than a year to try and cut down on suspensions that take minority students out of the classroom and contributed to the achievement gap. It's been a difficult process, and at its last meeting the group realized they had lost focus and needed a reset. Since then, members of the School Board have been allowed to nominate representatives to the task force. This all takes place as the federal Office of Civil Rights continues to investigate, based a complaint that concerns both discipline academic opportunities....

  6. Hillsborough's all-boys middle school principal sold on single-gender education



    Dominic Capitano is at school early because his mom needs to get to work. Kenyatta Watson wants to be a better reader. Dabren Vega is earning points for his "house," the kind made famous at the fictional Hogwarts school.

    They sit in the historic auditorium in a tough part of east Tampa, all in crisp uniforms and ties, arriving as early as 7 a.m. for voluntary reading. John Haley, the principal at Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, is there for those who seek him out....

    Principal John Haley checks to see if students have their IDs as they line up for lunch on Oct. 30 at the Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy. “It is becoming men of distinction,” Haley says. “That’s our vision and mission for our boys.”
  7. Hillsborough resolves dispute with three charter schools


    After eight months of discussions and an uproar when parents feared three Hillsborough charter schools would close, lawyers for the schools have reached an agreement with the district concerning governance structure.

    The local boards will be in charge, according to a memo to the School Board.

    The three -- Henderson Hammock, Winthrop and Woodmont -- are all managed by Charter Schools USA of Fort Lauderdale. Because the company works with a nonprofit foundation, district officials said there was confusion about where the foundation's authority ended and the local boards' began.

    At one point things were so heated, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia put the schools on notice that if the two sides couldn't resolve the issues, she might end the schools' contracts. That was shortly before the school year began, and parents were fearful until Elia promised she would keep the schools open at least another year.

    The agreement is in effect until the schools' charters come up for renewal, at which time the district will revisit the issue. Winthrop and Woodmont are due for charter renewall in June 2016. Henderson Hammock's renewal is June 2017....

    Henderson Hammock Charter School in Citrus Park
  8. Hillsborough to crack down on kindergarten parents who don't meet their kids at the bus


    It happened about 1,600 times in the last school year: Bus drivers in Hillsborough County arrived at the bus stops in the afternoon with kindergarten students who had no parents or guardians to meet them.

    When that happens, the driver is supposed to take the child back to the school, something that causes delays in the routes that follow.

    More than half the incidents involved repeat offenders. And they happened most often on Mondays, Fridays or the work days before and after a holiday....

  9. New Hillsborough School Board member hesitates to take sides


    TAMPA — Sally Harris is a marriage enrichment instructor who has been married three times, and a career educator who never finished college.

    She rides in Ruskin and cleans up after horses at her South Tampa learning center.

    Now she joins the seven-member Hillsborough County School Board at a pivotal time for testing, curriculum and administration of the nation's eighth-largest school district....

    “I am going in with my eyes wide open,” Sally Harris said of the School Board.
  10. Voters return April Griffin, critic of Hillsborough superintendent, to School Board


    TAMPA — One of the Hillsborough County school superintendent's biggest critics was returned to the School Board in Tuesday's election along with two new members including one who has criticized her on the campaign trail.

    April Griffin, 45, won her third four-year term with a nearly 2-1 lead against challenger Dipa Shah, 43, in a countywide race.

    In eastern Hillsborough's District 4, insurance agent Melissa Snively, 44, defeated Terry Kemple, a 68-year-old conservative Christian activist. ...

    Sally Harris, center, gets excited about her Hillsborough School Board District 2 win with family and friends on Tuesday in South Tampa.
  11. On the School Board campaign trail in Hillsborough


    While it doesn’t compare with the staggering sums of the governor’s race, this year’s Hillsborough school board candidates collectively raised more than $800,000, nearly triple the total in 2012. Three of the candidates who remained after primaries are in the six-figure club: Melissa Snively, with $121,000; Michelle Shimberg, with $148,000; and Dipa Shah, who leads the pack at $155,000....

  12. On the School Board campaign trail in Hillsboroughl


    Two years ago Hillsborough County School Board members Carol Kurdell, Doretha Edgecomb and Susan Valdes won re-election with $32,000, $25,000 and $14,000 respectively, and Cindy Stuart unseated an incumbent with just $18,000....

  13. Tea party group's mailers paint different images of Dipa Shah


    TAMPA — It's hard to know where Ax the Tax stands on Hills­borough County School Board candidate Dipa Shah.

    A mailer from the conservative organization lists the Brandon lawyer and novice politician in its tea party voter's guide. Her inclusion in the nonpartisan School Board race was not an endorsement, the mailer says, but an indication that Shah is most likely to support tea party principles....

    Dipa Shah is a Brandon lawyer trying to oust incumbent April Griffin for a School Board seat.
  14. Retired Hillsborough school exec rehired after tense debate


    TAMPA — It started as a discussion about the fiscal wisdom of hiring back government employees who have retired.

    But in a flash, it became racial.

    Leaders of black organizations in Tampa lined up at Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting to support the rehiring of Lewis Brinson, 62, a recently retired assistant superintendent who is black.

    Lawyer Warren Hope Dawson was there. Tampa Organization of Black Affairs board member James Ransom was there....

  15. New principal named at McDonald Elementary


    Jessica Hessler is the new principal of McDonald Elementary School. She last worked as assistant principal of Mango Elementary. The Hillsborough County School Board approved her appointment at its meeting Tuesday.

    Hessler, 35, joined the district in 2002 as a teacher at Pizzo Elementary. 

    Jessica Hessler is the new principal of McDonald Elementary School