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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. 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....

  2. 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....

  3. 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]
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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)...

  7. 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....

  8. 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)...

  9. 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.
  10. New Hillsborough principals


    The Hillsborough County School Board named these new principals at its meeting Tuesday:

    Blake High School: Jesse Salters, 43, was Blake's assistant principal. A district employee since 2009, he also worked as student intervention specialist at Sligh Middle School.

    Hill Middle School: Ronald Mason. 44, is now assistant principal at Smith Middle School. Before that he was a teacher at Town & Country, Carrollwood and Pizzo Elementary; a guidance counselor at B.T. Washington Elementary and Martinez Middle. He joined the district in 1994....

    Louis Murphy, Jr., is the new principal of West Tampa Elementary School.
  11. Stuart wants another term in Hillsborough


    Cindy Stuart has filed for another term representing north Hillsborough's District 3 on the School Board.

    Stuart's seat is one of four up for grabs in the November 2016 election. So far there have been no filings from incumbents Carol Kurdell, Doretha Edgecomb or chairwoman Susan Valdes.

    This would be the second term for Stuart, 48. 

    She joins Tarance Delento LeNoir, a charter school teacher who is opposing Edgecomb in District 5; and Randy Toler, who is challenging Kurdell in countywide  District 7....

    Cindy Stuart is running for re-election for the Hillsborough County School Board
  12. Buffalo needs a superintendent too


    In her next positions as a schools superintendent, MaryEllen Elia could wind up in Buffalo.

    But, if that were to happen, she would face a School Board every bit as quarrelsome as the one that ousted her in Hillsborough on Jan. 20.

    Press reports from Buffalo, where Elia was educated and began her career, mention her as a possible prospect. Elia put in a bid for the post in Palm Beach County but did not make it to the list of finalists. Hillsborough's board, meanwhile, is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a two-year contract for acting superintendent Jeff Eakins. That's expected to happen late in the 3 p.m. meeting, as the district is also naming 11 principals....

  13. 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....

  14. 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....

  15. 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....