Melanie Trent shares why she serves as a board member
Growing up, my parents believed that the single most important asset children could have was a good education. My mother immigrated from Italy when she was eight years old and landed in a poor coal-mining town, where she knew that education was her only ticket out. She put herself through college and medical school and eventually moved to Houston. She always made it clear to me that learning to think critically and challenge ideas were keys to any future success.
I was fortunate to have attended a great school in Houston that gave me the necessary fundamentals to successfully graduate from college and law school. And I strongly believe that all Houston children should have that same opportunity to attend a great school that can help them reach their full potential.
I strongly believe that all Houston children should have that same opportunity to attend a great school that can help them reach their full potential."
Meeting YES Prep
My first encounter with YES Prep was in 2001. For my work at Reliant Energy, I was learning about the state of schools in Texas and the charter school movement. I remember questioning the driving directions as I pulled into the Fiesta parking lot and saw the temporary buildings that were the first YES Prep campus. I had low expectations based on the outside. Then, I met Chris Barbic who gave me a tour of the school – and once I saw the students, teachers, and the incredible level of enthusiasm in every classroom, I was convinced that YES Prep was a special place that was going to change lives of Houston children.
Over the next 16 years, I continued to watch YES Prep grow and impact more students. I watched friend’s children progress through YES Prep and head off to college as first-generation college students. Then fast forward to mid-2017 when Doug Selman, a YES Prep Board member, reached out to me to see if I would be interested in learning more about YES Prep. It felt like fate was intervening in some way to reconnect me with YES after all those years. After interviewing with CEO Mark DiBella, Board Chair Mark Gregg and others, I was invited to join the Board and I wholeheartedly said YES!
Board duties and responsibilities
At YES Prep, we have 15 board members and we meet several times a year to plan for the future and to review progress against our goals and strategic priorities. The board also has several committees that meet frequently to go into more depth on topics such as student achievement, budgets and finance, issues that arise from running 19 physical campuses, and governance issues like CEO performance, teacher, and staff compensation.
The board is also able to assist in long-term strategic planning, to ensure we are focused on future decades, not just what’s going on in the near term, and to hold management accountable for achieving what we say we are going to achieve. For example, I recently worked with DiBella to seek input from students, parents, board members, teachers, staff, and other community participants about what YES Prep was doing well and what we needed to change. Thanks to that feedback, along with months of research, data analysis, number crunching, and strategizing, we developed our current strategic plan “Leading Houston Forward” that outlines how YES Prep will invest in our current schools and launch 10 new elementary schools.
Why I’m committed to YES
I have watched my own children navigate K-12 grades and then apply to and go to college. I watched their struggles with SAT/ACT prep, completing essays and applications for numerous colleges, concerns about tuition and expenses, deciding which school might be a good fit, and then leave Texas for several years to pursue a college degree.
It is a stressful time for students and families and it has made me a better-informed board member. It helps me ask questions about our college initiatives and campus visits, our ratio of college counselors to students, the results of our SAT prep/testing and so on. Watching my children move out of state for school reminds me that we need to make sure our YES Prep students have the life skills they need to succeed away from home, not just the grades and test scores.
I, along with my fellow board members and school leaders from YES Prep, are focused on ensuring that all YES Prep students come to a safe, supportive, rigorous academic program where they are valued for who they are, encouraged to achieve great results and to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become leaders in our community. Each of us considers it an honor and a privilege to be able to participate in ensuring Houston kids receive a quality education that will prepare them for college and beyond.
Each of us considers it an honor and a privilege to be able to participate in ensuring Houston kids receive a quality education that will prepare them for college and beyond."
It isn’t hard to support something you believe in. Working with the YES Prep staff and the Board has been incredibly fulfilling and challenging in ways I didn’t expect, and I have loved every minute of it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melanie Trent is a native Houstonian who spent most of her career in various energy-related businesses. Today, she serves on several public company boards, and the boards of YES Prep and the Houston Endowment, Inc.