For a near kindergarten dropout, John Phillips has done pretty good for himself.
Make that Dr. John Phillips.
“My mom jokes that I was almost a kindergarten dropout,” Phillips said, smiling. “I vividly recall being mortified of going to kindergarten and being incredibly unhappy for the first several months of kindergarten.
“The one variable that turned things around was the teachers and other staff members who loved me through my first year of school and never gave up on me. My memory of school now is every year got better as I grew up due to my teachers. I had such amazing teachers that to this day, I’m pretty sure I could name almost every teacher and coach I had through secondary education.”
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Phillips is the recipient of this year’s Mansfield Independent School District Ambassador of Education Award. The award, in only its second year, is given to a person who shows themselves to be a true ambassador for the students and staff of Mansfield ISD. It was created to show appreciation to community members such as Phillips, who dedicate their time and energy to support education.
Phillips is the president of Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. He serves on the board of directors for the Mansfield Economic Development Corporation, Mansfield ISD Education Foundation Board, and is involved in various organizations throughout the community.
And, he is humble, as he exemplified when his name was announced as the winner.
“I was shocked to hear I received the award as the true ambassadors of education are the teachers, school district employees, coaches, administrators, volunteers, school board members and others who give of themselves daily to make our school district a great place for our students,” Phillips said.
“My wife, mom, her siblings, my brother and my wife’s mother are all current or former school teachers, and over their careers I have seen the dedication they and their co-workers have for their students and parents. I would never put myself in the same high category as I consider them to be in relative to educators, and to be mentioned in the same sentence as an educator is an incredible honor for me.”
Phillips and his wife Marci have two children in the Mansfield School District. Son Mac is a recent graduate of Mansfield High School (MHS) and plans to attend the University of Texas in Austin in the fall. Daughter Molly is a sophomore at MHS.
“Both Mac and Molly have had an amazing experience in MISD due to the district staff,” Phillips said. “MISD has been a huge blessing to me by making Mansfield a true home for me and my family.”
His work in the district includes participating in various teacher grant opportunities by funding special projects at schools throughout the district, establishing the MISD/Methodist Mansfield employee health clinic, helping with various fitness events such as Miles For Meredith, assisting with the development of bond proposals and volunteering in the classroom for spelling bees, reading to kids, or just being available for whatever opportunity pops up.
“But I’ve always felt I’ve benefited more from being involved than the district has benefited from me helping,” he said.
Mansfield ISD Superintendent Dr. Jim Vaszauskas said the district benefits greatly from the help of citizens such as Phillips.
“Education is a collaborative process, and community is a special part of that equation. We started the Mansfield ISD Ambassador of Education Award to give a token of our appreciation to the community members who go above and beyond to support education,” Vaszauskas said. “John Phillips is passionate about kids. He’s a parent and an active community member who gives of himself throughout the year, and we thank him for that.”
Phillips also takes great pride in Mansfield being one of the few school districts in Texas that has been named a District of Innovation.
“At the risk of sounding cliché-ish, kids are our future. I get to see it every day at Methodist Mansfield as we have students from around the district and from multiple area colleges in the hospital furthering their education as they explore healthcare as a career,” he said.
“Technology is advancing incredibly fast, and it is important our students are exposed to current technology and encouraged to be the creators of future technology. Hence, MISD has to be at the forefront of education to prepare our students for careers that don’t even exist today, but will evolve into existence over the next 5-10 years.”
However, he believes the MISD is far from finished with growth and advancing forward, and he wants to remain a part of whatever the future holds.
“My sense is MISD’s culture of being visionary and at the forefront of education began years ago with previous leaders such as Vernon Newsome. I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Newsome, but based on the stories I have heard about him, he and his family are legendary in our community,” Phillips said. “The current school board, Dr. Jim Vaszauskas and his staff have been highly visionary, and I know they will continue to strive for MISD to literally be the best in the nation.
“In my opinion, investing in early childhood learning programs and establishing a foundation of leadership skills with elementary age students would be an additional positive direction for the district.”
His own background in healthcare began with physical therapy and early in his career Phillips was involved with early childhood learning programs. He said he has seen the positive impact that investing in 3-and-4-year-olds can have on students when they are older, such as 13 and 14, and even 23 and 24.
“Research studies have shown that investing in children at this early age has a significant return in later years,” he said. “As a parent, business person and community member, such a prospect is exciting to me and hopefully to others. I’m excited that our district is open to such ideas and does not wait on other districts to lead the way.”
Phillips encourages any and all community members to get involved in helping the MISD. It doesn’t matter if you have a child in school or not, as the furthering of a youngster’s education benefits us all, he said.
“My advice to others would be if you are having a bad day, volunteering at a local school is like magical pixie dust,” he said. “You’ll go from sad to happy in less than five minutes.”