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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. Old (expensive) habits die hard, even as Hillsborough strains to cut its schools budget


    TAMPA — Theresa Crocker loves the hands-on science and knowledgeable teachers at East Tampa's Lockhart Elementary Magnet School, so much that she sends her son Bryce there each day from their home in Lutz.

    "We were impressed from day one," Crocker said. Students can train on a flight simulator, tend a hydroponic garden and meet with mentors from the legal profession.

    But Lockhart and other schools like it cost a lot of money, while not always delivering desired results. The student population is 7 percent white and 75 percent black, not the racial balance magnet schools aim to attract. Only once in the last six years has it received anything other than a D grade from the state, and that was an F....

    Teacher Adrienne Brown watches as third-grader Keondre Barton, left, and fourth-grader Afton Kurek use a flight simulator during a Gifted Technology Goals class at Lockhart Elementary Magnet School in East Tampa.
  2. Plan your supply purchases in the Hillsborough County schools


    Need to buy copy paper? Crayons? Folders?

    If you work for the Hillsborough County schools, you'll need clearance.

    Principals have been asked in recent weeks to consult with their staff and plan all their supply purchases through the end of the school year.

    This isn't a sign of any kind of economic crisis, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

    Rather, she said, it's a step district leaders want to take to encourage planning and avoid having schools over-order supplies they don't need. As the eight area superintendents are collecting the lists, they can encourage schools to share their surplus supplies with nearby schools that are running short....

  3. The goal: Giving Hillsborough schools the help they need


    A committee in the Hillsborough County Public Schools has found a way to give schools the extra help they need instead of staffing them in a way that, by all accounts, has been largely random.

    There was no rhyme, no reason and no pattern to the old way of assigning teaching coaches and specialists, district officials said Tuesday, showing the School Board a graph that represented the way schools were assigned math and reading coaches and other specialists....

    A depiction of the old way supplemental teachers were assigned to schools in Hillsborough County
  4. Community meetings will help Hillsborough families explore transportation options


    A series of gatherings has been scheduled to help parents cope with a reduction of busing to Hillsborough County public schools.

    Beginning March 1 at Wharton High School, the meetings are intended to educate families about carpools, safe bicycling routes and other ways to get to school.

    But they are not town hall meetings where parents can complain about the loss of busing within two miles of the schools....

  5. Hillsborough teachers are schooled in fitness as they prepare for a 5K run


    TAMPA — In her skinny running pants, Lynn Gray looks like a regular person who was elongated in a fun-house mirror.

    Yes, we know she is a member of the Hillsborough County School Board. We mean no disrespect.

    But that has to be what everyone is thinking as Gray demonstrates how to lift, lift, lift your body in a long-distance run. Elbows bent. Knees up. Back arched ever so slightly....

  6. Quarterly report in Hillsborough spotlights successful schools


    McLane Middle School has good news this semester. The Brandon area school, which buses many students from East Tampa and has struggled over the years with behavior issues, is one of three schools that were highlighted Tuesday evening in a quarterly report that looks at how closely the district has lived up to its strategic plan....

  7. A new principal at Summerfield Elementary


    Carmine Alfano is the new principal of Summerfield Elementary School in east Hillsborough.

    The board approved Alfano, 55, who served until now as principal of LaVoy Exceptional Center. He replaces Derrick McLaughlin, who will open the new Warren Hope Dawson Elementary School.

    Alfano joined the district in 1997 as a teacher at what was then Parkhill Exceptional Center. He served as ESE administrator from 2004 to 2013 at Davis Elementary before being named principal of LaVoy. ...

    Carmine Alfano has been named principal of Summerfield Elementary School. HCPS
  8. Hillsborough school board will discuss busing, name a principal and sign a contract with Charter School USA's fifth Hillsborough school


    TAMPA — Meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday, the Hillsborough County School Board is expected to name a replacement for Principal Derrick McLaughlin at Summerfield Elementary School.

    McLaughlin, 37, was chosen to lead Warren Hope Dawson Elementary, a new school that will open in August in Riverview.

    Also in the fast-growing southeast, Charter Schools USA, the Fort Lauderdale company, is preparing to open its fifth Hillsborough charter school, called Waterset, in Apollo Beach. ...

  9. Investment House: Hillsborough school finances are improving


    A New York investment house likes the way the Hillsborough County School District is cutting costs, and upgraded some of its debt from "negative" to "stable."

    In a report from Fitch Ratings, analysts said Hillsborough has "solid prospects for enrollment-driven revenue growth, historically low fixed carrying costs, a low long-term liability burden and adequate reserves." ...

  10. You know you wanna...


    Ex-jocks and weekend warriors in the Hillsborough County school system now have one less excuse to sit out the upcoming Gasparilla road race.

    The district is fielding a 5K team -- and offering free training.

    "Going For Gold" has several goals -- to promote fitness, build camaraderie, and build the buzz around Hillsborough's "90BY20" campaign to boost the high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020.The district is moving in that direction, having jumped three points this year to 79.1 percent....

    Gasparilla road races last for two days. The 5K event, in which the Hillsborough County school district is fielding a team, is at 9:15 on Feb. 25.
  11. School board election results tonight


    Don't forget to look down-ticket today for two Hillsborough County School Board elections.

    If you live in central Tampa, your choices are engineer Joe Jordon-Robinson and litigation manager Tamara Shamburger.

    All Hillsborough residents can choose between Lynn Gray, a former teacher; and Cathy James, a career accountant, for the at-large seat in District 7. We got them to pose together at a Hispanic heritage festival, where they worked the crowd while middle school children romped around on Bucs-themed play equipment in the hot, hot sun. Who says school board members can't be civil?...

    Tamara Shamburger is running for the District 5 seat in central Tampa.
  12. A race to pay the teachers


    TAMPA - The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers have reached a tentative pay deal that rewards long-serving teachers, who have reached the top of the pay scale, with a $200 bonus.

    All teachers would also get cost of living raises of $200, which would be built into the pay scale. The raises are retroactive to July 1. And, for about a third of the teachers, there will be a scheduled $4,000 raise, also retroactive....

  13. Gibson reports are on the district site too


    In addition to our running list of documents pertaining to the Hillsborough County School District's financial situation, the district has posted the Gibson reports on its website. To find them, go to the Superintendent page, Resources tab, and scroll down. Or click here. ...

  14. Here are the Gibson reports...


    ... and other documents in Tampa Bay Times files, pertaining to the ongoing cost-cutting efforts at the Hillsborough County Public Schools. This list will be updated.

    July 2015

    Moody's report to investors...

  15. The Hillsborough teacher pay plan: What happened?


    The Tampa Bay Times received several questions from teachers and others who want to know what happened to the pay plan that was rolled out during the Gates reform years.

    Why the difficulty in signing a new contract?

    The teachers' union is a far better source of answers, and they have been working through the weekend to sort out the ongoing transfers....