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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. Landlord sues North Tampa charter school for back rent


    A charter school in North Tampa that has served as an alternative to several low-performing district schools is behind in its rent, a lawsuit alleges.

    New Springs Schools owes more than $600,000 in payments on the Busch Boulevard school to Jeffrey L. Miller Investments Inc., according to a suit filed July 19 in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

    The landlord alleges the charter school stopped paying rent some time after the lease was renegotiated and renewed in 2014.
    B-rated New Springs, with 334 students in grades K-8. draws its largest numbers from Van Buren Middle School, which received a D last year; Robles Elementary, also with a D; and C-rated Forest Hills Elementary and Greco Middle....

    New Springs gets the largest share of its students from Van Buren Middle School in North Tampa.
  2. Investigation of principal reveals strife among staff, PTA at Hillsborough's Bailey Elementary


    DOVER — It began in April, when the Hills-borough County School District froze end-of-the-year spending earlier than usual.

    Bailey Elementary Principal Russell Wallace wanted to send teachers to a conference in Orlando. So he turned to the PTA for $4,600. He was told no.

    But it didn't end there.

    Wallace requested — demanded, some say — to know which PTA officers voted yes and which ones voted no....

    Former Bailey Elementary principal Russell Wallace, here speaking at a 2013 school board meeting, helped raise Bailey’s school grade from a D to an A, but came under criticism in an investigation.
  3. New principal, chief of schools in Hillsborough


    These administrators were appointed Tuesday at the Hillsborough County School Board meeting.

    * Harrison A. Peters, Chief of Schools. Peters comes from Houston, where he worked as chief of schools and school support officer in the secondary office. Before that he held chief of schools positions for the Chicago Public Schools system. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1993 to 1995 and held his first teaching job between 1999 and 2002, at the Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School in Orlando....

    Jarrod Haneline is the new principal of Bailey Elemenary School.
  4. Hillsborough schools to have universal restrooms for students this fall


    TAMPA — Seeking to accommodate transgender students and comply with a federal order, the Hillsborough County School District is arranging to have a universal restroom in each of its public schools starting this fall.

    Many details remain to be worked out, and principals have been given a survey that will help the district officials work through the logistics.

    Robert Quinn, the principal of Jefferson High, said the policy fits in with one of his objectives: "One of our goals is courtesy, so courtesy should be the norm," he said....

  5. New principals will be named in Hillsborough


    Three principals will be named at today's Hillsborough County School Board meeting, including a replacement for Greco Middle School's Yinka Alege.

    Alege was promoted to a position in the principal pipeline program. He's been credited for creating a more positive culture at Greco, a Temple Terrace school of 651 students, nearly 90 percent who are low-income....

    Greco Middle School principal Yinka Alege, who was promoted, will be replaced this afternoon.
  6. Gender Identity 101


    Many details remain to be worked out, but the Hillsborough County School District took an important this step toward improving its accommodation of transgender students.

    School administrators took part in a training day Monday. The event covered federal law and legal precedents, district policy, terminology and statistics on bullying and suicide among young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ)....

  7. Gender Identity 101


    Many details remain to be worked out, but the Hillsborough County School District took an important step this week toward accommodating transgender students when school resumes on Aug. 10.

    School administrators attended a training day at Jefferson High School that covered federal law and court cases, district policy and statistics affecting students who are transgender.

    The Tampa Bay Times was not allowed to attend the training day, but, under the public records laws, we received a PowerPoint used at the session....

  8. 'Be the one,' Eakins tells new Hillsborough teachers


    SEFFNER — Proudly, Jeff Eakins displayed images of three graduating high school seniors before an auditorium filled with new teachers.

    "But what you don't know," the Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendent said after each introduction, was what they overcame: hearing impairment, behavior problems and a childhood in foster care.

    "We all have to remember that we can be the one for somebody," Eakins told 600 new teachers, kicking off their week of orientation at Armwood High School....

    “We all have to remember that we can
be the one for somebody.” 
Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough County school superintendent, addressing new teachers Monday at Armwood High School.
  9. Hillsborough School Board candidates discuss charter schools, race, infighting


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County School Board candidates tried Friday to stand out as informed and intelligent, well versed on charter schools and able to avoid feuding on the job.

    Eighteen months after the firing of superintendent MaryEllen Elia, the board is still tarred by its reputation for discord, and candidates found themselves explaining how they would avoid the label used by local radio host Al McCray — "a gang of four."...

  10. Eakins: Reorganization is first step to help kids read


    The Hillsborough County School District's reorganizaton, with its reliance on eight area superintendents, is the first step towards curing a reading deficit that affects tens of thousands of children, Superintendent Jeff Eakins said Friday.

    Addressing community leaders in South Tampa in a breakfast event called Cafe Con Tampa, Eakins said he is understandably disturbed by this year's state testing results, which show 31,300 students read at Level 1, far below proficiency....

    Hillsborough schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins and School Board Chairwoman April Griffin took questions Friday morning at Cafe Con Tampa
  11. Forecast for the school year: Some schools bursting, others half empty


    In next week's Hillsborough County School Board agenda, the district published its expectation of school capacities for the coming year.

    It confirms that some schools are greatly under-utilized -- middle schools in particular.

    Here are some of the emptiest schools in Hillsborough with their utilization rates:

    Adams Middle (59%), Burnett Middle (61%), Dowdell Middle (58%), Franklin Middle (55%), Giunta Middle (57%), Greco Middle (56%), Ippolito Elementary (61%), Jennings Middle (59%), Lockhart Elementary (59%). Maniscalco Elementary (65%), McLane Middle (47%), Memorial Middle (62%), Monroe Middle (45%), Rodgers Middle (57%), Sligh Middle (41%), Smith Middle (57%), Tampa Bay Tech High (65%), Temple Terrace Elementary (65%), Thonotosassa Elementary (65%), Town 'N Country Elementary (57%), Van Buren Middle (46%)....

  12. We'll get back to you


    There were many questions, but not so many answers at Tuesday morning's Hillsborough County School Board workshop on the budget. 

    Board members wanted to know about teacher turnover. Is it still as low as it was in the heyday of Gates? How does it differ from school to school? From black teacher to white teacher?

    Human Resources chief Stephanie Woodford has promised to get back to the members with a report that answers all these questions....

    Hillsborough County School Board
  13. 40 low-performing elementary schools will cost Hillsborough district $6 million


    TAMPA — Forty of the state's 312 lowest-performing public elementary schools are in Hillsborough County, a fact that will cost the district nearly $6 million in the next school year as it continues to wrestle with budget issues.

    Two are independently managed charter schools; the other 38 are run by the district. That lowest-performing designation, based on reading scores and learning gains, will require those schools to lengthen their day by an hour....

    SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Hillsborough County School Board members will discuss the coming year's budget at a workshop Tuesday morning. The board and Jeff Eakins are shown here on July 1, 2015, Eakins' first official day as superintendent.
  14. Principal out, A.P. under investigation at Bailey Elementary


    Questions remain about Bailey Elementary School, but this much is clear: Russell Wallace is out as principal.

    Subject to a School Board vote, he'll be reassigned to another school, most likely as an assistant principal, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said Friday.

    Arja also confirmed that Bailey's assistant principal, Jamie Whitlow, has been under investgation by the Office of Professional Standards, and that matter is still under way....

    Russell Wallace, shown here at a school board meeting, speaking out about the need for security guards, is leaving Bailey Elementary School.
  15. Joe Robinson, running again for Hillsborough School Board, still has a flair for fiery speech


    TAMPA — Campaigning for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board, Joe Jordon-Robinson likes to say he's mellowed. "I'm the new Joe Robinson," he told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Thursday....

    Joe Jordan-Robinson, candidate for Hillsborough County School Board