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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. Never mind about those principal transfers


    We reported, based on the March 3 Hillsborough County School Board agenda, that Maria Gsell would leave East Bay High School to become principal of Hillsborough High School.

    But it didn't turn out that way.

    Gsell will remain at East Bay, as community members hoped she would.

    That leaves Hillsborough High looking for a principal.

    The plan was for Johan von Ancken, Hillsborough's former principal, to move  to East Bay. Instead, Von Ancken was named administrator on special assignment. According to district spokesman Stephen Hegarty, the change was part of a domino effect as Denny Oest was promoted to assistant superintendent and Leslie Granich, also an administrator on special assignment, replaced Oest as director of leadership for secondary education....

    Maria Gsell will remain as principal of East Bay High School
  2. Hillsborough board will hear from minorities task force on 4/21


    A task force that wants to reduce the suspension and arrests of minority students will bring its recommendations to the Hillsborough County School Board on April 21.

    While members are still discussing some of the details, the list looks like this:

    * Revisions to the code of conduct in the student handbook. The word "offenses" would be changed to "incidents." The list of zero tolerance actions would be revised, with hopes that fewer cases will be referred to law enforcement....

    Acting superintendent Jeff Eakins addresses the Hillsborough school district's task force on minority student discipline
  3. In the quest for higher graduation rates, Hillsborough educators seek student ideas


    TAMPA — The survey answers were surprising and not encouraging.

    Students did not feel respected at school. Few had considered dropping out, but most knew someone who had. Lack of financial and family support were barriers to success.

    The research did not come from educators, but from students.

    "When you normally think of Armwood, you think of football," sophomore Jacquez Lilite said. "It's all true, but we're more than that." ...

  4. Principals are reshuffled in Hillsborough


    These prinicipal moves were included in Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board agenda:

    * Johan von Ancken, 36, will move from Hillsborough High School to East Bay High School.

    * Maria Gsell, 60, the principal at East Bay, will take Von Ancken's job at Hillsborough.

    * Terry Hawthorne, 52, will leave Broward Elementary School to become a human resource partner, a new position for the district....

  5. Hillsborough School Board approves Jeff Eakins as new superintendent


    TAMPA — Jeff Eakins, a longtime Hillsborough County School District employee with a gentle manner and a vision of helping more students graduate, was selected Tuesday as the next superintendent of the nation's eighth-largest school district.

    The offer is contingent on the School Board and Eakins agreeing on a contract by June 9, three weeks before superintendent MaryEllen Elia will leave the job. Elia, whom the board voted to fire on Jan. 20, begins a vacation on Friday that will last until her contract runs out June 30....

    Hillsborough’s School Board voted 4-3 to make Jeff Eakins its next superintendent, assuming a contract can be reached.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 will learn today  if she is the nation's top superintendent. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  11. 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....

  12. 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....

    Raul Andrade of Tomlin Middle is the top support employee.
  13. 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:...

  14. 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.
  15. 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....