Even in light of community concerns, HISD is moving forward on its pursuit to receive a District of Innovation designation. Getty Images

In the Houston Independent School District's board meeting on Thursday, May 14, the board of trustees voted in favor to begin a process that would designate HISD a District of Innovation.

The ruling allows HISD to begin the process of receiving the DOI designation and to join the almost 900 other Texas school districts with the designation, which would be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.

The designation would allow for several exemptions from state law, including beginning the school year earlier than the fourth Monday in August, allowing flexibility in attendance requirements, and allowing for non-accredited teachers to conduct Career and Technical Education courses.

Before the HISD board discussed the motion and voted, they heard from community members who expressed concern with this particular accreditation matter during the meeting's call for community speakers. Due to COVID-19, the speakers wrote in their concerns, which were then read for the board.

Andrew Dewey, executive vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, asked the board to oppose the motion as the exemptions allowed by DOI aren't in themselves innovative, he says.

To allow for non-accredited CTE instructors, "the district would have to be exempted from the entire section of the law requiring certification," writes Dewey. "That action would open the door for future administration and school boards or board of managers to allow non-certified teachers in other content areas."

Several other community members voiced this concern over allowing non-accredited teachers, and another concern was timing of the motion. A few community members argued that now is not the time to pursue the DOI designation — and Trustee Elizabeth Santos of District I echoed that concern.

"Our students deserve better than to have something shoved down their throat when there's a pandemic, and we should be solely focusing on safety and instruction," Santos says in the meeting.

Trustee Anne Sung of District VII made a motion to push back voting on the matter to the board's June meeting, but the motion was struck down in a 3-6 vote. Moving forward, Sung called for the district to proceed with caution on the accreditation of teachers.

"I want to say publicly that in the plan I will be looking for extreme rigor in protecting certification in our teachers," Sung says in the meeting.

Now that the motion has passed, it has allowed HISD's Superintendent Grenita Lathan to push forward on the DOI designation. The district's next move is to create a planning committee and collect the community's concerns on the process.

Board meetings have you front and center and can feel like you're taking a beating under intense pressure. Thankfully, there are ways to make board meetings less brutal. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

How to avoid a beating in your board meeting, according to a UH expert

Houston Voices

Board meetings can be taxing on CEOs. Think about it. You're standing in front of a group of suits that can fire you on the spot if they feel you're underperforming. You're out in the open. Naked. Vulnerable. Insecurities exposed for all to see. One wrong move and you could be back on the bread line. A board meeting puts you front and center.

Before we get into exactly how we can make this experience less soul-crushing, let's take a gander at what makes a board meeting so brutal to begin with.

Brutality of board meetings

Board meetings are long. They're a torture chamber. Those machine cogwheels that Charlie Chaplin was trapped in and smashed by in the movie Modern Times, that's what it's like to go through a board meeting.

It's extremely difficult to tell your startup's story and show its progress when you're being asked, nay, commanded, to talk about specific things only, like how are you spending money?

You get too many people sticking their hands in the pot. Board members invite other people to attend and suddenly everyone wants to hear themselves talk. They'll all want to chime in and get their spotlight to show how smart they are.

There's intense pressure. You're essentially pitching your startup all over again. Except this time you're pitching it to a room full of suits that can take it away from you.

"Startup CEOs tend to forget that it's the board that works for them," said Jeff Bonforte, former vice president of Communications Products at Yahoo! and creator of Yahoo! Mail, Messenger, and Answers.

"You have CEOs leaving these board meetings with more work on their plate to get done than when they went in. It's brutal. You have this pressure of feeling like it's on you to get to the finish line, but the fact of the matter is it's also the board's responsibility, too."

Lessening the blow of a board meeting

One way to make board meetings less brutal and more bearable is to narrow down the things that need to be covered. Have team dynamics changed for the better? Has the market changed since our last meeting? How did that impact us? What's our position now relative to last year? Are we doing what we said we'd be doing?

The core of a board meeting should cover temperature-check questions like this, rather than "the product should have a button that lights up on touch."

Once you make board meetings centered on action items and temperature-check questions, suddenly these meetings become more about moving forward and being productive, and less about judging you. Suddenly, board meetings become events where highly intelligent individuals with shared interests (the interest of not losing their investment) actually, get this, work together to improve the company, rather than belittle you.

Further lessening the blow

Meet with board members individually for about half an hour before a board meeting. Ask them what issues they want you to cover and ask for their opinion on the agenda you plan to present. This helps ease tensions and minimize surprises during a board meeting.

Put together a nice packet. Sort of a pre-board meeting prepper. It should show the board members what you plan to cover during your meeting. Make sure to send out these packets at least a few days prior to the meeting. This will encourage board members to come prepared because now they'll know what to expect.

Arrange a luncheon before a board meeting. This gives board members a chance to meet important people on your team and talk with each other without the intense atmosphere of a board meeting.

"Another thing you should do during a board meeting is, you want to sit at the table with the board members. Integrate yourself among them rather than stand in front of the room where you'll really feel the heat," said Bonforte.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.