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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 proposal for student 'bill of rights' would slow school discipline process


    TAMPA — Slow down, Mr. Assistant Principal, before you suspend those unruly students.

    They have rights.

    Before you question them, they can call a parent or advocate. They can tell their side of the story. And you'll need reasonable suspicion to search their lockers.

    These and other rights would be spelled out to students, parents and staff if the Hillsborough County School Board follows a recommendation to adopt a student bill of rights....

  2. How do Hillsborough middle magnet schools work anyway?


    As the Hillsborough County school district steps up its efforts to market magnet middle schools to children in East Tampa, the question might arise: How will they get in?

    First: A lot of East Tampa students already attend the five middle schools in their community. Young, the science magnet, has 71 students who live in the 33605 zip code right around the school....

  3. Eakins negotiates $225,000, two-year contract as Hillsborough superintendent


    TAMPA — Jeff Eakins would be paid $225,000 a year to start as superintendent of the Hillsborough County Public Schools, according to a proposed two-year contract the School Board will consider Tuesday.

    The board can adjust that amount upward, but it cannot drop below the negotiated amount.

    Eakins will be evaluated every year by May 1. And when it's time to renew the contract in June, the board will be able to extend it by up to three years....

  4. Eakins on new laws, school choice and filling Elia's shoes


    In addition to his remarks about progress at McLane Middle School, Hillsborough acting superintendent Jeff Eakins spoke with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on a variety of topics. He described a study he did on the 26.5 percent of Hillsborough 12th graders who did not earn diplomas this past year. We look forward to reporting on his results in more detail. He also answered questions about the Legislature, his views on school choice and customer service, and what it's like to follow the high-profile MaryEllen Elia as a school district leader....

    Acting superintendent Jeff Eakins is a listener who is analyzing the causes for kids not graduating and hoping to make each school attractive.
  5. Eakins outlines changes to address problems at McLane Middle School


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials hope to place more east Tampa middle school students at magnet schools near their homes, instead of busing them 12 miles to troubled McLane Middle School in Brandon.

    For those who stay at McLane, the district is exploring ways to help them better adjust to middle school and high school.

    Acting superintendent Jeff Eakins announced these steps Thursday to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. ...

    To reduce busing to McLane, Jeff Eakins wants to place more students at magnet schools.
  6. Task force gets an invitation to McLane Middle School


    The Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendent and School Board have yet to say a word about Bused and Broken, the Tampa Bay Times April 5 report about the long-term effects of busing East Tampa students to Brandon's McLane Middle School.

    But the school and its area leader did respond, in the form of an invitation to a task force that is focused on minority student discipline....

  7. Eakins could be hired ahead of schedule


    The Hillsborough County School Board gave itself until June 9 to reach a contract agreement with acting superintendent Jeff Eakins. That's because MaryEllen Elia officially leaves the job on June 30.

    But it appears Eakins will make it official a lot sooner.

    The final item on Tuesday's meeting agenda says: "Approve the contract for Jeff Eakins for Superintendent."

    Jim Porter, the board's attorney, confirmed via text that the contract is being finalized "and should be ready for the vote."...

    Acting superintendent Jeff Eakins could be named Hillsborough's superintendent on Tuesday, effective July 1. A contract is expected in time for the School Board meeting.
  8. New principals will take over about a dozen Hillsborough schools


    TAMPA — Blake High School will get a new principal Tuesday. And so could at least 10 other Hillsborough County schools.

    Promotions, retirements and transfers are behind appointments the School Board will be asked to approve at Tuesday's 3 p.m. meeting.

    Large numbers of principal moves often happen in the summer, after school grades and teacher survey results are released.

    But sometimes they happen midyear, and changes in school district leadership are factors in some of the moves....

  9. Outgoing Tampa Palms Elementary principal gets Congressional mention


    Outgoing Tampa Palms Elementary principal Kimberly Keenan gets a lot of accolades.

    But it's not every day that she's mentioned in Congress.

    U.S. Rep. Dennis A. Ross, a Republican from Lakeland and the Senior Deputy Majority Whip, spoke of Keenan Wednesday on the House floor.

    "Mrs. Keenan has been both the Assistant Principal and Principal of Tampa Palms Elementary School in the School District of Hillsborough County for 18 years," Ross said....

  10. "Pizza Party" firing is headed to a hearing


    A Ben Hill Middle School teacher who was dismissed after a pizza party went very wrong is taking his case all the way to a termination hearing before the Hillsborough County School Board.

    Adam Reynolds, who taught physical education, invited a group of female students to a pizza party at school in 2014 so they could meet his half-brother, social media sensation Carter Reynolds. Days later his brother, then 17, had sex with a student he met at the party, according to an account by the student. She said the encounter happened at the teacher's house. Carter Reynolds' appearance also caused a disruption at the school....

    Teacher Adam Reynolds with his brother, entertainer Carter Reynolds, in the background on Vine
  11. To open in Hillsborough, charter schools need to clear the gates


    TAMPA — Matt Gunderson thought his organization could open a charter school in Hillsborough County this year, similar to its successful schools in Pinellas. But his application didn't pass muster.

    So there he was on Tuesday, in a meeting room in east Tampa, firing questions at county charter director Jenna Hodgens.

    He had company: Darryl Hawkins wants to open a military school. Trysha Russell hopes to serve children with autism and Asperger syndrome. Ayesha Hackman has a private technology-themed school that she wants to convert to a charter....

    Jenna Hodgens, left, Hillsborough’s director of charter schools, talks Tuesday to Ayesha Hackman, a private school operator who wants to convert it to a charter school.
  12. Council: Hillsborough should address reported problems at McLane Middle School


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County school officials need to respond to large-scale busing and subsequent discipline problems at McLane Middle School, members of a school district advisory council said Friday.

    The problems were outlined in "Bused and Broken," a Tampa Bay Times special report published Sunday, which found that 344 inner-city students travel as long as an hour each way to the Brandon school....

    Buses wait to leave after school is over at McLane Middle School in Brandon last month.
  13. Elia is out of the running for Palm Beach County schools job


    MaryEllen Elia, fired on Jan. 20 as head of the Hillsborough County school system, will not be the next Superintendent of the Palm Beach County schools.

    A search committee, instead, chose four other finalists, two from Florida and the others from Georgia and Minnesota.

    Elia, 66, was among 72 applicants for the job leading a district that is slightly smaller than Hillsborough's.

    The two Florida finalists are Desmond Blackburn, chief of school performance and accountability for the Broward County district; and Jesus Jara, deputy superintendent for Orange County....

  14. Hillsborough task force on minorities will reconvene Friday


    The last meeting of a group in Hillsborough that is seeking to cure a racial gap in school discipline was a teleconference.

    But the group will meet in person on Friday and, as all such gatherings, this one is open to the public.

    The task force, which is now making a transition to an independent advisory council, is preparing its recommendations for the Hillsborough County School Board. What they have discussed so far includes changes to the student policy manual and a bill of rights that makes sure students are protected before they face formal discipline by administrators....

  15. Report calls for help to close graduation gap


    As the nation tries to boost its high school graduation rate from 81 to 90 percent, some schools -- including many in the Tampa Bay area -- are falling well below those marks.

    A report from the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C. calls attention to high schools around the nation with graduation rates of 67 percent or less, and urges the federal government to make sure those schools have the resources to do better....