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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 teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer


    TAMPA — The second Hillsborough County School Board meeting in less than a month took place Tuesday against a backdrop of honking car horns, cheering teachers and audience members moving through the room in shifts.

    Dressed in blue union-issued T-shirts, teachers made so much noise outside the room that it was hard to hear discussions inside about the work they're doing to boost high school graduation; or the budgetary problems that are getting in the way of $15 million in pay raises....

  2. Hillsborough school district names Teacher of the Year finalists


    Finalists were announced Tuesday for Hillsborough County Teacher of the year and other honors.

    Winners will be announced at a banquet on Jan. 16.

    The finalists for teacher of the year are: Jennifer Jackson, seventh grade science, Stewart Middle; Alexa Trafficante, fourth grade, Gorrie Elementary; Bonnie Bresnyan, Exceptional Student Education, Lewis Elementary; Nicole Meyerson, fifth grade, Carrollwood Elementary; Lisabeth Leist, math, Steinbrenner High School....

  3. Yet another charter school is slated to open in Riverview


    TAMPA — The forward march of the charter school movement will continue this afternoon with a contract coming before the Hillsborough County School Board for another privately managed school in Riverview.

    Creekside Charter Academy will be the sixth publicly funded Hillsborough school to be managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company based in Fort Lauderdale.

    Charter Schools USA's growth is rivaled by Miami-based Academica, which got approval on Nov. 14 to manage two new sports-themed SLAM schools that are also in the Riverview area. The first local SLAM opened this school year in Citrus Park....

    Waterset Charter School opened this year in Apollo Beach with about 800 students. [Photo courtesy of Waterset Charter]
  4. Hillsborough teachers balk at school district offer of $1.8 million in bonuses


    TAMPA — They were hoping to receive between $15 million and $17 million in scheduled pay raises.

    Instead, Hillsborough County's pubic school teachers on Monday were offered slightly more than a tenth of that, a lump sum of $1.8 million to be shared among roughly 20,000 employees the union represents.

    "Our superintendent has had to make extremely difficult decisions," employee relations manager Mark West told the bargaining team. "We are asking you to be patient."...

    Hillsborough County School District officials negotiate Monday with members of the teachers union. Teacher representatives balked at a district offer of a onetime $1.8 million bonus to be shared among the estimated 20,000 employees represented by the union. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
  5. Superintendent: Hillsborough teachers are 'positioned very well' on pay


    TAMPA — Responding to a week-long "work the contract" protest by Hillsborough County school teachers, superintendent Jeff Eakins said Wednesday he is confident the students will not suffer.

    "I trust our teachers are doing right by kids today," Eakins told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

    Concerned about stalled pay talks, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association has asked its members to work only during their contracted hours as an illustration of the extra labor they normally perform after hours....

    Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Wednesday detailed progress the district has made and assured parents that students are being served despite a week-long "work the contract" protest by teachers over pay. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
  6. Teachers in Hillsborough decide that for a week they will 'work the contract'


    TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County will "work the contract" for a week after Thanksgiving to illustrate their dissatisfaction with treatment from the school district.

    That means no late meetings or phone calls with parents and no grading papers at home.

    "It's to make a point that this is what things would be like if teachers really did that all the time," said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association....

    A standing-room-only crowd at Thursday's meeting of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association voted to "work the contract" for a week to protest treatment from the school district. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association]
  7. As contract talks stall, Hillsborough teachers campaign for raises with email and pickets


    TAMPA — With contract negotiations stalled, Hillsborough County teachers are on a campaign to try to get their scheduled pay raises.

    Emails are going out to the School Board, superintendent Jeff Eakins and the media, from parents and teachers alike.

    "I have been rated highly effective for the entirety of my career," wrote Emmie Deininger, a seventh-grade teacher at Farnell Middle School in Westchase. ...

    Teachers picketed outside Steinbrenner High School on Monday morning. They are pushing for scheduled pay raises of $4,000 for roughly a third of the district's teaching force. The Hillsborough County School District says it can't afford the pay bump. [Photo courtesy of WTSP-Ch. 10]
  8. What we know about New York terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov's Tampa ties


    TAMPA — The man New York authorities say used a truck to kill at least eight people in Manhattan Tuesday had an address in Tampa, according to media reports and a Missouri court record.

    What we know so far about 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov suggests the outline of an immigrant from Uzbekistan who has tried to make a living on the road as a truck driver, has had a few brushes with the law for traffic offenses and may have lived in several states....

    Sayfullo Saipov is a suspect in the terror attack in New York. [CBS NEWS]
  9. New complaint against Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes prompts investigation


    TAMPA — Already the subject of multiple complaints that she says are politically motivated, Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes has been named in a new one, this time involving the closing of the district's planning and construction department.

    The Florida Department of Education is directing the school district to investigate an anonymous complaint that suggests Valdes influenced administrators to dissolve the district department last year so its staff could not address problems with construction work performed by her friends and campaign donors. If the district doesn't investigate and report back in 30 days, state officials said in letter they will conduct their own inquiry. ...

    Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes is accused in an anonymous complaint of influencing a decision to close the district's planning and construction department to protect friends and campaign donors. Valdes insists the claims are false and says political rivals frequently target her. [Times files]
  10. For seven struggling schools, Hillsborough selects the least disruptive turnaround option


    TAMPA - Faced with four possible back-up plans for seven D and F schools, the Hillsborough County School District chose the least disruptive for all seven: Partnership with an outside consulting firm.

    That means that if Potter, Booker T. Washington, Sheehy, Foster, Oak Park, Mort elementary or Memorial Middle School don't improve to at least a C this year, the district will call for assistance -- but will remain in charge....

    Booker T. Washington Elementary is one of seven Hillsborough schools ordered to submit turnaround options in case they do not earn at least a C grade this school year.
  11. New state law targets seven Hillsborough schools with D's and F's


    TAMPA — The state is telling Hillsborough County to have contingency plans ready by Friday for seven struggling schools in case they don't receive C grades or better at the end of the year.

    The directive affects D-rated Foster, Mort, Oak Park and Sheehy elementary schools; D-rated Memorial Middle; and Potter and Booker T. Washington elementary schools, which are both rated F.

    Districts have four options for such schools, assuming they do not improve to a C....

    Parents walk their students home from Mort Elementary, which is two points shy of a C grade for 2016-17. Now the state wants the North Tampa school to make a contingency plan in case it fails to get a C for this school year. Six other HIllsborough County schools face the same situation. [Times files]
  12. With classrooms to spare in urban areas, Hillsborough wants to fill empty space with preschool kids


    TAMPA — Hundreds of low-income children could have access to quality preschool next year under a plan now under development in the Hillsborough County School District.

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins said Monday he has asked his assistant superintendent in charge of academic support and federal programs to scout out elementary schools in high-poverty neighborhoods that have extra rooms that can be refitted to accommodate 3- and 4-year-old students....

    A new plan announced by Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins would use empty space in a number of schools to start preschool programs. The set up would allow kids to stay in the same school from preschool to kindergarten. "We are literally creating the pipeline and the transition for kids," Eakins said. [Times | 2005]
  13. Hillsborough teachers get a hard no on scheduled pay raises


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County teachers who were expecting $4,000 raises this year will not get them because of continued financial pressures, their union was told this week.

    “We cannot responsibly award raises,” employee relations manager Mark West told the union during bargaining talks.

    Over the last three years, he estimated, the district has given out $75 million in raises. “That spending has kind of caught up with us,” he said....

    This might be the last teacher bargaining session in Hillsborough for awhile. Although the two sides are not officially at an impasse, the district says it cannot pay teachers their scheduled raises.
  14. Here's what happened when 30 high school sophomores gave up their phones for a day


    LUTZ — They were everywhere at Steinbrenner High School. Teens with panic-stricken faces, furiously slapping one thigh, then the other.

    My phone … Where's my phone?

    Then they'd remember.

    They were reading Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, and the assignment from English teacher Tiffany Southwell — strictly optional — had been to explore the book's themes of entertainment overload and social alienation. Give me your phones for a day, she suggested to 30 sophomores, and write me an essay....

    Grace Hayes, 15, left, and Kai'Rell Lewis, 15, talk and text friends after having a discussion about smartphone technology in Tiffany Southwell's English Literature class at Steinbrenner High last week. Southwell asked theme to give up their phones for a day and write about it. For Lewis, the ride home that day "was the longest bus ride in my life." [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  15. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    That was before the arrival of "the serial killer," as residents are now calling whoever snuffed out three lives in the last two weeks in southeast Seminole Heights. ...

    Bryan Edmunson prays Friday over the memorial of Anthony Naiboa. He said his girlfriend lives less than half a mile from where Naiboa was found dead.