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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. Hillsborough charter school enrollment, by the numbers


    As the Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this year, middle schools in Hillsborough County are losing enrollment while the rest of the school district grows.

    Some of the losses happened because a handful of schools were converted in recent years from elementary to K-8 schools. The newest are Sulphur Springs and Tinker at the MacDill Air Force Base. The Tinker situation left Monroe Middle School with roughly 400 students, virtually half empty....

  2. Who's getting suspended in Hillsborough


    The Hillsborough County School District has kept a close watch this year on out-of-school suspensions, and they've shared some of that data with us. Any suspension of more than five days must be approved by an area superintendent.

    These are the totals so far for the 2015-16 school year....

    Chamberlain High School in North Tampa registered 121 out-of-school suspensions of more than five days, the highest number in the Hillsborough County School District this year.
  3. Fellowship staff are trained in Hillsborough County


    Fifteen adult representatives of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were trained Monday in the do's and don'ts of faith-based partnerships in the public schools.

    Monday's workshop came in response to last week's relevation that David Gaskill, who worked part-time for the organization, was proselytizing regularly at five Hillsborough County high schools despite a lack of training and two criminal convictions on his record....

  4. Hillsborough schools are ordered to slow spending


    TAMPA — Employees in the Hillsborough County School District have been asked to cut back dramatically and in some cases freeze spending, a bit earlier than usual and in a year when austerity is already the buzzword.

    Two memos went out this week to the district's central offices and

    Appointments in Hillsborough


    Administrative appointments that came before the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday included a new principal for Brandon Alternative School, to replace the retiring Nancy Lind.

    Essie Johnson Wilson will replace Lind, moving over from Mendez Exceptional Center, Wilson has been with the district since 2012, following 12 years at the Mobile County Schools.

    Also replacing a retiring principal (Merrill Fallis),  Jamie Johnson becomes the new principal of the Dorothy Thomas School, an alternative facility in the Lake Magdalene area. Johnson worked for Hillsborough from 1993 to 2009, then spent six years working in the Duval and Baker county district....

    Essie Johnson Wilson will be the new principal of Brandon Alternative School.
  5. Robotics results


    Updating this report on McLane Middle School's robotics program: The Vibots (for Viking, the school mascot) finished 44th of 200 teams in a world competition last week in Kentucky.

    This, says Principal Dina Langston, despite the fact that the team from China that was supposed to be paired with them did not show....

    Despite the absence of its competition partner, the McLane Middle School Robotics team finished in the top quartile of at VEX Worlds IQ in Kentucky last week.
  6. Idlewild: We'll help the Hillsborough district any way we can


    While the role of Idlewild Baptist Church might change somewhat in the next school year, the church will continue to offer its assistance to the district and Superintendent Jeff Eakins.

    "We stand fully committed to working in support of Superintendent Eakins' vision of preparing students for life," Barry Chesney, the church's pastor of missions, said Monday. "Our role is to support that vision and help in every way we can."...

    Idlewild Baptist Church arranged voluntary training and motivational sessions for Hillsborough school administrators this year. That practice may or may not continue for 2016-17. Shown here is Senior Pastor Ken Whitten.
  7. What about the coaches?


    A complaint alleging illegal activities on the part of a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes did not just point the finger at self-styled campus minister David Gaskill....

    In this selfie posted by Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes, Superintendent Jeff Eakins and other board members pose at a banquet honoring athletic coaches in the Hillsborough County School District.
  8. Religious boundaries in public schools continue to baffle Hillsborough leaders


    TAMPA — In a year when attention has been focused on the Hillsborough County school district's relationship with Christian organizations, it took a lawyer in Wisconsin to stop a self-styled minister with a criminal record from spreading the Gospel to athletes at five public high schools.

    The district responded promptly, banning the Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative from campus and making plans to train all other adults in the local organization on Monday....

    Rabbi Richard Birnholz of Tampa says having to face religious proselytizing in a public setting is "an affront." [Congregation Schaarai Zedek]
  9. Details about Hillsborough's campus preacher


    Our report on David Gaskill, a minister to student athletes accused of crossing the line when it comes to Hillsborough school district policy about volunteering on campus, raises interesting issues. Exactly what was Gaskill, 55, accused of doing? And what was the legal basis for banning him from campus....

  10. Christian fellowship representative proselytized in Hillsborough schools for years without clearance


    TAMPA — In plain sight, a man with two criminal convictions led prayers and discussed Jesus with athletes at five Hillsborough County public high schools.

    For years he entered the campuses freely and without proper screening, led students in prayer, and posted dozens of Facebook pictures, some in locker rooms — activities that violated district policies on proselytizing and raised issues of student safety....

    David Gaskill, who works for the Fellowship for Christian Athletes, has been banned from Hillsborough County School District campuses for proselytizing, and because he never submitted to a background screening that would have revealed his two felony convictions. [Fellowship for Christian Athletes]
  11. Consultant: Bus problems persist in Hillsborough school district


    TAMPA — Yet another consultant study confirms the Hillsborough County school district's bus service remains in dire need of improvement.

    The Council of the Great City Schools — enlisted after a chaotic start to the school year that culminated with 27 children driven into a Westchase-area pond — delivered a mixed report on what is the largest transit system in the Tampa Bay area....

    Hillsborough County school buses are pictured at a transfer center where magnet students change buses. A consultant has given a mixed report on the district's bus system, saying it needs to pay drivers more, improve morale and improve its business plan. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
  12. Fellowship of Christian Athletes' adults will need training before they can access Hillsborough schools


    TAMPA — Adults who work for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes have been told to stay out of Hillsborough County public schools until they receive training on Monday.

    The move stems from a complaint about access the organization's staff had with students on campus during noninstructional time, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

    Arja said she did not know any details about the complaint, including what schools were involved or when it was filed....

  13. Robotics program a bright spot at McLane Middle, where three students prepare for big competition


    BRANDON — The robot was about as big as a bread box, made of little plastic tiles with a basket on one side edged with rubber bands. Its task was to pick up orange balls like you would see in a children's ball pit and put them in one of two scoring areas. Ready, set, go.

    Fifteen were up after a minute. That was average, the McLane Middle School students decided. But it was only a trial run, one of many leading up to a championship competition in Kentucky for students Jaylin Rasumoff, Kayla Pagan and Christian Egger....

    From left, McLane Middle School students Kayla Pagan, Jaylin Rasumoff and Christian Egger practice with a robot they built in class. They can manipulate the machine to collect orange balls from one area and take them to another.
  14. Teacher resigns after questionnaire controversy at Monroe Middle School


    TAMPA — The teacher at the center of a controversy over a gender identity questionnaire has left the Hillsborough County school district.

    Yoselis Ramos, 23, resigned Thursday from her job teaching Spanish at Monroe Middle School, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.

    Earlier this month, Ramos was taken out of the classroom after parents complained that she polled students in two classes about their gender identity, religion and sexual orientation on April 4....