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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. Aging computers flagged in Hillsborough schools, including one running COBOL


    TAMPA — Got COBOL? The Hillsborough County School District does.

    The nation's eighth-largest school district relies on a computer language that was invented in 1959, unfamiliar to a lot of programmers educated in the current century.

    The district uses it for a student information system that originally was housed in an IBM mainframe computer dating back to 1984. It spends $1.5 million annually to maintain the hardware and software....

    Programmers stand at the console of a UNIVAC I, which made use of COBOL. The programming language, invented in 1959, is being used in Hillsborough County’s student information system.
  2. Gibson, the Hillsborough school district's consultant, picks apart classroom practices in final report


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District shows promise in budgeting and teacher training, but has gaps in technology and its education of disabled students.

    These are among hundreds of observations in the third and final report from the Gibson Consulting Group , hired last year for an audit as the district struggled to reverse four years of steep financial losses....

    Greg Gibson is an efficiency consultant to the Hillsborough County School District. He will address the School Board Tuesday about his latest report on educational services. MARLENE SOKOL | Times
  3. Gibson Phase III Report is here (Phase I and II too)


    To read the full Phase III report from the Gibson Consulting Group to the Hillsborough County School District, click on these links:

    Executive Summary

    Chapter I: General Education...

  4. Hillsborough school officials say charters could help ease impact of enrollment boom


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County school officials said Tuesday that they are willing to enlist an unlikely ally — charter schools — as they tackle a looming financial crunch brought on by growth in the coming years.

    With the district facing at least $1 billion in construction needs on top of close to another $1 billion in debt, School Board chairwoman Cindy Stuart said, "I think this is an amazing opportunity for us to, as much as I don't want to say it out loud, partner with charters."...

    Students at Kid’s Community College make their way onto a basketball court for recess on May 11, 2016. The Riverview charter school’s growth is an example of how charters could ease the burden of a housing boom expected to hit the district over the next few years. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
  5. Gradebook podcast: An interview with Hillsborough County superintendent Jeff Eakins


    Hillsborough County schools superintendent Jeff Eakins has faced his share of tough issues during his nearly two years in office. Most recently, he's dealt with plans, since delayed, to alter school start times as a way to save millions of dollars in busing. He recently spoke with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board about his tenure, and what lies ahead. Today's podcast includes extended excerpts from that session....

  6. Report: Population growth will mean more debt and painful rezoning for Hillsborough schools


    TAMPA — Already nearly $1 billion in debt and stammering over what time to start school days, the Hillsborough County School District faces more upheaval from a population boom that promises to further strain its finances and test its political will for the next 15 years.

    An average of 10,000 new homes will be permitted each year in that time, mostly in southeastern Hillsborough, requiring 23 to 38 new schools and frequent changes in attendance zone boundaries, according to a report by the Tindale Oliver consulting firm....

    The density of many eastern Hillsborough County neighborhoods in 2005 illustrates the boom that prompted the school district to build an average of five schools a year from 1999 to 2009. A consultant says a milder boom will require 2.5 new schools a year over the next 15 years.
  7. Hillsborough school times will remain the same for 2017-18 but could change the following year


    TAMPA — Families in Hillsborough County have another year to adjust to planned schedule changes in the public schools.

    While superintendent Jeff Eakins will recommend new hours at a special School Board meeting on April 25, the schedule would not take effect until August 2018.

    "All the questions that people don't have all the answers to yet, this will give us time to provide clarity," he said....

    Hillsborough school chief Jeff Eakins’ plan was met with outcry.
  8. Bell times recommendation is expected soon


    Superintendent Jeff Eakins is expected to decide soon how much of a bell time change he will recommend to the Hillsborough County School Board.

    A specially called board meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on April 25. An agenda should be posted a week in advance. But, if Eakins decides to put the bell schedule issue entirely on hold, that meeting would not be needed.

    Eakins said last week he is likely to go ahead with at least some of the plan, in the interest of getting students to school on time and saving $2.7 million a year....

    We're waiting for a recommendation from Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins about school hours for the 2017-18 year.
  9. Panel in Tampa explores challenges to public education


    TAMPA — The challenges facing public schools were too numerous to cover in two hours, and the small crowd included a visible row of people who like private school scholarships.

    But Saturday's Real Talk gathering touched on the high points: racial disparities, fast-paced legislative decisions and competing demands on limited funds.

    "I care about the kid that's being left behind in public schools," said state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, before praising a program that uses state tax credits to help families pay for private school....

    Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Cindy Stuart
  10. Truth-telling or parent shaming? Teachers vent on Facebook


    This April 3 post by Edison Elementary School teacher Ebou Howard is burning up Facebook, and was shared this morning on our own Facebook site.

    Howard, also a gospel musician, posted that he is tired of seeing teachers blamed for students' lack of academic progress when, in their preschool years, many are not taught their alphabet, numbers and colors or how to behave. Parents won't even show up for conference night. "Tumbleweeds," he wrote....

    A school photo of the kindergarten teachers at Edison Elementary School in East Tampa. Ebou Howard, center, posted on Facebook that parents need to get their act together if they expect their children to succeed in school. Many teachers agree, and they're saying so.
  11. Wanted in Hillsborough: The best teachers for kids who need them most


    TAMPA – Darcel Codrington and Richard Grayes never stopped smiling as they faced each other Monday across an interview table.

    Codrington, who teaches second grade at suburban Symmes Elementary, was ready for a challenge now that her own children have moved on to middle school.

    Grayes, the principal of Clair Mel Elementary, wanted to know if she could handle the stress at a school where the poverty rate is nearly twice as high....

    Principal Dina Langston and assistant principal Troy Vasaturo represented McLane Middle School, which hired three teachers at Monday’s interview day.
  12. We answer some of your questions about school schedules in Hillsborough



    We've been following closely the Hillsborough County School District's efforts to change school hours. A comprehensive plan was expected to come before the School Board on April 25, to take effect on Aug. 10. Now it's looking more like a piece of the plan will be approved for immediate implementation, with the district delaying the rest for a year.

    While things were in flux at the time of our print deadline, we thought we would answer questions that parents and teachers have posed since the idea was made public in late March....

    Buses line up to carry home elementary school strudents in Hillsborough County. The school district is planning to change when the school day starts and ends. [Times file (2015)]
  13. Real Talk event will focus on education equity


    Community leaders in Tampa will gather Saturday morning near the University of South Florida to discuss education equity - and how to get more of it.

    Real Talk represents a joint venture between the Florida PTA, Florida Council of Churches, NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens and other organizations.

    "The mission of Real Talk is to bring more diverse voices to the table to better meet the needs of all Florida students," says a notice that went out this week. "Real Talk wants residents of Tampa and surrounding communities to seize this opportunity to ask important questions and be heard on the education issues that matter most to them."...

  14. Eakins: School time changes could happen in phases


    How definite is Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins about the bell time proposal?

    He's certain something has to change. But how much and how fast are very much up in the air, he said Tuesday.


    Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins wants to revise school schedules to get more students to school on time. But, he said Tuesday, some parts of his proposal might have to wait a year.