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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. Evaluations of Superintendent Elia tell some of the story


    People are stunned by the Hillsborough County School Board's 4-3 vote this week to buy out the contract of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. As they terminated her contract without cause, members have been careful not to disparage Elia publicly for fear of being sued.

    So what is the back story? And why did newcomer Sally Harris vote to fire Elia?

    Harris spoke to Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton, who gave this report....

    Shown: Board member Sally Harris, who voted yes for Elia's termination; Melissa Snively, who voted no; Susan Valdes, who voted yes; Doretha Edgecomb, who voted no; and board attorney Jim Porter
  2. High school students give feedback on minority discipline, testing and more


    TAMPA — Give him something interesting to do and he'll get to class on time, said Cornelius McClinton of Jefferson High School.

    But if he knows what to expect, and it's a teacher droning on, "I'm tardy to class because I already know what we're doing," he said Friday. "I need something that motivates me to come to class."

    McClinton, 17, is one of a dozen students who have been in trouble, turned things around and shared their perspective with a task force on minority student discipline in Hillsborough County public schools....

    Seniors Javanta Hall, left, and Patrick Scott were among the students who spoke to the Hillsborough County School District’s task force on minority student discipline Friday at Jefferson High School in Tampa.
  3. Whether or not you liked Hillsborough schools chief MaryEllen Elia, she's gone — so what's next?


    TAMPA — As the shock of schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia's firing is felt throughout Hillsborough County and beyond, people are wondering: What's next?

    No plan of succession was discussed at Tuesday's School Board meeting. And word that Elia's contract was terminated without cause by a 4-3 vote, despite her accomplishments and accolades, has some educators wondering who will want to take her place....

    MaryEllen Elia 
was fired Tuesday and back at work Wednesday.
  4. Gates Foundation on Hillsborough and Elia


    Everybody is going on the record regarding the firing of Hillsborough County superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

    So Gradebook reached out to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which committed $100 million to the district's Empowering Effective Teachers program.

    Here is the response from Vicki Phillips, the foundation's director of education and college readiness:

    "Over the last five years, as a result of continuing collaboration among the district, union and community, Hillsborough has developed one of the most innovative and comprehensive teacher development and support programs in the country. Superintendent Elia has been recognized in Florida and nationally for her leadership in these efforts. The foundation chose to invest in Hillsborough because of its active, engaged and caring community, including its teachers and administrators, and we remain committed to Hillsborough as long as its leaders, teachers and parents are committed to the work. As we've always said, ensuring there is an effective teacher in every classroom is a critical part of improving education for each and every student."...

    Bill Gates at Jefferson High School
  5. What ousted Hillsborough schools chief MaryEllen Elia told her employees today


    Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia sent this message out to her employees at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday:


    Last night the School Board voted to terminate my contract without cause. As a result, my last day on the job as Superintendent of this wonderful school district will be March 5.

    I want to thank the Board for taking a stand and providing clarity on an issue that has become a tremendous distraction for our schools, our employees, and for the community. I'm not happy with the outcome, but perhaps this will enable everyone to move forward....

    Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, dismissed by the Hillsborough School Board Tuesday, told employees Wednesday that she is not retiring, she appreciates her years leading the school district, and the issue of her future can now be removed as a distraction.
  6. New Hillsborough principals


    We are awaiting a vote on these principal appointments at the Hillsborough County School Board meeting:

    • Steven Sims, 47, Lamb Elementary School. Sims joined the district in 1992, working most recently as principal of Collins Elementary School.

    • Kilsys Garcia, 36, Morgan Woods Elementary. Garcia has been with the district since 2002. She's now assistant principal at Morgan Woods. She replaces Jonathan Barlar, who was moved to Thonotosassa....

  7. Hillsborough School Board votes to oust Elia


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia, the hard-driving, highly decorated leader of the nation's eighth-largest school district, was fired Tuesday by a new School Board majority that objected to her unusually generous three-year contract and the way she interacted with them.

    "The people I represent, my bosses, are unhappy," said board member April Griffin, who has feuded with Elia for years. She made the motion before a packed meeting room to terminate the superintendent's contract without cause....

    Supporters of Hillsborough schools chief MaryEllen Elia wear red during the School Board meeting on Tuesday in Tampa. More than 70 speakers delivered mostly glowing remarks about her performance.
  8. More about tomorrow's discussion on Elia


    Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart is asking that the discussion on Superintendent MaryEllen Elia be moved to the top of Tuesday's 3 p.m. meeting, rather than where it is now at item 9:03.

    She said Monday that she's assuming others have made the same request, and that the board will suspend the usual limits it imposes when a lot of people speak on one topic....

    School board members cannot discuss Elia's performance. They can discuss her contract. Members of the public can talk about anything (within reason).
  9. Stay with us for your Elia updates


    Will the Hillsborough County school district need a new superintendent after Tuesday's 3 p.m. board meeting? There are at least three possible outcomes.

    1. The board discusses her contract, but no one moves to terminate her.

    2. A vote is taken and a majority (four or more of the seven members) vote to terminate without cause, which would mean buying out the remainder of her three-year contract at a cost of more than $1-million....

    In happier times, 2009, the entire board celebrated the $100 million Gates grant for teacher evaluations. Now the board is discussing glitches in the system.
  10. Hillsborough Superintendent Elia is star in education circles, but on hot seat at home


    TAMPA — Roberta Moore got worried when the Hillsborough County School District wanted to send her 10-year-old son with Down syndrome to a program farther from home. So she pleaded his case, twice, to the School Board in the summer of 2013.

    With the auditorium packed and the meeting televised, superintendent MaryEllen Elia defended her staff. She described in great detail the phone calls back and forth, how they tried to set up a meeting with Moore and were poised to resolve the issue. ...

    Hillsborough County School District superintend­ent MaryEllen Elia speaks at a news conference in January 2013 in Tampa. If the School Board votes to fire her Tuesday, it would cost $1.1 million in salary, benefits and bonuses.
  11. Payout to fire Hillsborough school superintendent would top $1M


    TAMPA — Firing Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia would cost taxpayers more than $1 million in salary, benefits and unused sick and vacation time, according to numbers released Friday by the school district.

    In preparation for Tuesday's planned discussion and possible vote on Elia's future, the district revised the agenda to include a detailed account of the payout....

    Firing Hillsborough County schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia would cost more than $1 million in salary, benefits and unused sick time, according to numbers released Friday by the school district.
  12. Lawsuit: Child died because Hillsborough school waited too long to call 911


    TAMPA — Keith Logan Coty played baseball, soccer and football. He was a principal's honor roll student in the first grade at Seminole Heights Elementary School, his mother said.

    He'd had a heart murmur, but the doctor had cleared him, his mother said.

    He died a year ago at age 6 of a brain hemorrhage, and a lawsuit filed Friday blames staff at his school for failing to call for help quickly enough. The lapse is especially unfathomable, lawyers say, as the issue of timely 911 calls was cited in another high-profile student death in a Hillsborough public school....

  13. Letters to Hillsborough School Board (mostly) urge members to keep Elia on board


    Are Hillsborough County School Board members being lobbied in the days before a vote on Superintendent MaryEllen Elia?

    You bet they are.

    Gradebook, through a public records request, received 26 emails that have come into board members' mailboxes in recent days. All but five implored the members to keep the longtime superintendent, and some were pointed in their criticism of the board for considering buying out her contract....

    Of 26 e-mails that have come into Hillsborough County School Board members' inboxes in recent days, all but five implored the members to keep longtime superintendent MaryEllen Elia.
  14. Opposing camps prepare for vote on Elia's future


    TAMPA — When the Hillsborough County School Board sits down Tuesday to decide whether to fire superintendent MaryEllen Elia, the margin could be razor thin.

    Two of the seven members of the elected board generally — but not always — vote in support of Elia, who has led the district for 10 years. Three are more prone to voting against Elia. The remaining two are new to the board....

    Hillsborough County school chief Mary­Ellen Elia was named Florida’s Superintendent of the Year, and is in the running for the national honor. But she is also not liked by all in Hillsborough County.
  15. Hillsborough School Board will vote Tuesday on whether to dismiss Superintendent Elia


    TAMPA — One of the best-known school superintendents in Florida, and the longest serving in recent history, could be fired next week as long-simmering tensions with some School Board members come to a head.

    The agenda for Tuesday's board meeting includes a motion to end the contract of MaryEllen Elia, 66, who last month was named Florida Superintendent of the Year by her colleagues across the state....

    Board Chairwoman Susan Valdes asked that the motion be put on the agenda.