RED OAK — Diana Phillips has been through not one, but two disasters that have affected her efforts to tutor local students.
First, a heavy downpour in September 2018 collapsed the roof of Teachers Who Tutor in Ovilla, soaking and destroying nearly all of the classroom’s computers and instructional materials. Phillips, the executive director of Teachers Who Tutor, was forced to relocate and start from scratch.
Then in April of last year, as Phillips was moving into a new location on the corner of Ovilla Road and Interstate 35E in Red Oak, a fire damaged the building — and once again wiped out everything she had seen able to regain from her first loss.
“Sometimes you can’t cry,” Phillips said. “It was depressing. I lost a lot of clients. The ones I have now are the ones that have been with me for a while. What hurts the most is losing all those laptops. You can’t just go out and buy six or seven laptops.
“But the most important thing was I was still able to serve the kids.”
Fortunately, Phillips’ story of despair has a happy ending. The new location of Teachers Who Tutor at 2506 Ovilla Road in Red Oak is fully repaired, and tutoring classes will resume on Monday with new computers and new books.
“Only prayer got me through this one,” Phillips said. “I’m back in business to serve and help these kids. I like to see progress, not failures.”
Through word of mouth, Teachers Who Tutor serves kids from not only Ellis County, but also Dallas and Lancaster. Phillips has two certified assistants, Jamie Sanders and Yong Soon Kwon Lee, who tutor in reading and math respectively.
Phillips has an extensive background in educational services, and formerly operated tutoring programs in San Francisco.
Before the roof collapse at the original location, the classroom had been providing one-on-one instruction to about 25 students for the last 13 years, Phillips said.
But the first calamity destroyed not only all of the classroom’s computers, but also its State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing curriculum booklets, some of which are still relevant but are no longer in print and cannot be replaced.
“The loss is more than I can talk about,” Phillips said. “It really kind of bothers me.”
The disruption made it hard for students to attend regularly as Phillips sought temporary locations for her classes, eventually settling in at the Ovilla Road Church of the Nazarene.
“I went to about six churches up and down (Ovilla Road) and everybody said no,” Phillips said. “Then I said I’d try this one and then I’d give it up … and they said yes before anything.”
Phillips couldn’t return to her old location because the rebuilt roof didn’t pass a building inspection and had to be brought up to code. The building, right in the center of Ovilla on FM 664, remains vacant today.
Phillips started a GoFundMe account to replace four laptop and three desktop computers that were destroyed in the roof collapse, but that didn't help much — to this day, Phillips still owns just one laptop. But ultimately, she found an affordable location in an office building just up Ovilla Road in Red Oak that was newer and larger than her original classroom.
Gregg Johnson, the building’s owner who owns a barbershop next door, had reached out to her offering a new space.
“He’s been really supportive,” Phillips said of Johnson. “He wanted a program that would benefit kids in the community here and he knew my reputation. I was real pleased that he took time out to call me.”
But on April 13, as Phillips was preparing to reopen her classroom in Johnson’s building, a second tragedy struck. An electrical fire broke out in a barbecue restaurant within the same building and reached the attic, where it spread throughout the structure.
The fire was put out quickly by the Red Oak Fire Department and the building was saved, but the foam and water once again destroyed everything Phillips had worked so hard to replace. She had to start all over — again.
Johnson, who has owned the property since 1997, mentors young boys and girls in the area and was more than glad to assist Phillips in starting over. Johnson said he was first approached by Phillips years ago, but he didn’t have any vacancies at the time. Fortunately, a tenant’s three-year lease happened to expire right as Phillips was looking for a new location.
“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to see some kids in here screaming and hollering and doing some learning. What better way to bless the place than to have kids learning.”
Teachers Who Tutor offers affordable tutoring for students from kindergarten to adult who need learning assistance. Phillips said her service is $40 per session with small groups of three or fewer students, or $45 for one-on-one instruction. Each session lasts at a minimum an hour to an hour and a half. Phillips said she always tries to make it affordable for parents.
“Most of the need is reading comprehension, which involves math,” Phillips said. “A lot of students do what I call scan-reading, so we have to regroup and go back and show them context clues and all that.”
All of the tutoring is geared toward STAAR, which is what curriculum at all grade levels is based on in public schools in Texas.
Johnson, the landlord, is eager to see Phillips land on her feet and finally get to tutor children inside a permanent classroom after almost two years of tribulation.
“She’s going to be blessed and highly favored by working with kids,” Johnson said. “If you reach that one out of 99, you did what God asked you to do. It’s a blessing.”