Duncan Edwards

Waterside School 20 Years of Turning the Impossible into the Eminently Doable

“The power of possibility, the blessing of opportunity, and the path for children to chase their dreams.”

This is what former Waterside School Executive Director Duncan Edwards says makes his heart sing and his soul proud. But he isn’t alone. There’s an entire chorus who raise up their voices in praise of and gratitude for Waterside.

Located on Pacific Street in Stamford, Waterside School began 20 years ago with meager resources but a powerful dream: to be a transformational school for students junior kindergarten to 5th grade. Edwards describes Waterside as “an independent school of the highest quality with everything but a guaranteed stream of revenue; a parent and student body fully understanding, respecting, and honoring the blessing of opportunity; a set of persons truly called to the work, and a Board guided by the belief that their success is wasted if not shared.”

Board member and founder Chip Kruger identified the need for a school like Waterside, “There’s unequal opportunity for our constituency in seeking a greater education from our public schools. Waterside provides a real education and an entry to the American dream. We do not provide our students with ready excuses for why the student won’t succeed. We provide the tools through which they can succeed. The student and their family ‘only provide’ the hard work, drive, and dedication needed to acquire those tools.”

                       Jody Visage and Jamel Keels

As Jody Visage, the first head of school and current board member notes, “Parents come with a deep desire for their child to succeed but also with fear or uncertainty, and children come with their joy in learning—but needing a program and environment where all their potential can be developed. Over the course of their Waterside years, students emerge with the confidence, skills, and strong values to go forward to succeed; and their parents emerge as empowered, knowledgeable, inspired coaches of their children.”

Rising up and overcoming challenges

Today Waterside has a beautiful building, ample resources, and an established reputation. A newly-purchased contiguous piece of land allows the school to “dream about the future and how the school can have an even greater impact on its community,” says David Olson, the School’s current executive director. “It wasn’t always so,” adds Edwards. “The first decade for the school was ridiculously hard as the School had very little and, looking to the future, was assured nothing.”

Visage describes this time as a “challenge so daunting that it brought out the best in us, our deepest reserves of strength and hope, energy and determination. And love. There were so many times we were tempted to give up, but we couldn’t, just could not, because children and families already belonged to us, we already loved them, and were fiercely committed to seeing them through.”

Coming full circle with watershed hires

This fall two of Waterside’s graduates returned to teach. “Having our graduates in the building and guiding our current students gave us a new sense of pride and accomplishment as our own have returned to serve the next generation of Waterside students,” says Olson. “Waterside’s success is evident through our 288 graduates, including five classes of college graduates and 100% of the 2021 high school graduating class enrolled in four-year colleges.”

As founder Kruger says, “We want a wider dissemination of the reality that under-represented people perform as well as anyone when provided with an effective, supportive, and competent education.”

Here we bring together students past and present, parents, teachers, board members, and administration who share their perspectives on a school that has turned what was once thought impossible into the eminently doable.

Waterside as seen through its leadership

“The School partners with each family to support their child’s academic, social, and emotional well-being. We listen to their hopes and dreams, invite them to connect with us when they have questions, and offer our guidance whenever support is needed.” Jamel Keels, Head of School

“Waterside has a special blend of rigor and discipline with a tremendous amount of warmth and caring. The families know that they are not just sending their kids to school but signing on to partnering with the school and the betterment of their child. It’s so rewarding to see the students continue to achieve at the local private schools, in college, and even now post-graduate in fantastic companies. Twenty years has shown the full cycle of Waterside’s success.” Bart Osman, Board member

“Waterside students graduate with impressive academic skills, strong character, and a realization that they are deserving of an outstanding education. While these attributes allow them to have success at the area’s most outstanding independent schools, we know that our graduates continue to have unique needs. Our newly-created alumni internship program has helped open doors for our graduates and allow them to develop job-specific skills while also expanding their professional network.” David Olsen, Executive Director

Waterside as embraced by its teachers

“Waterside is important. It allows students to have a leg up and a chance for generational wealth. The connections we have made with each student and family continues past graduation. Our students are extremely dedicated and hard working. Days start at 7:30am and end at 4:15pm. They work hard to prepare themselves for their future.” Terri-Ann Gordon, Teacher

“I returned to Waterside to teach 2nd grade. There’s safety, care and love that students feel from being in a community that considers and understands each family’s needs—and believes in each student’s success. I come from an immigrant low-income household; we were welcomed into a community that ultimately shaped my future. I went onto Greenwich County Day School and then Miss Porter’s School. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. With all the uncertainties in navigating the college admission process, transitioning from schools, support with internships, I had Waterside by my side.” Christina Roca, Teacher and Former Student

Waterside as a beacon for students and parents

Every day before classes, the students promise to ‘work hard, be kind, and respect learning.”

“Waterside unlocks potential. They see a child or family’s worth and do what they can to help make them the best version of themselves. I always knew Waterside would help me get to wherever I needed to reach. The biggest factor in life is opportunity. The school came around just in time for me to start kindergarten and is designed to help low-income families like mine—I was one of the ones who got a chance, and that chance made all the difference. I owe Waterside everything.” Jessica “Jeddy” Johnson, Syracuse University graduate and on-air news anchor in Buffalo, NY

Sally and Duncan Edwards

“Waterside evokes a special feeling to go out into the world and do great things. Teachers ensure every child receives educational love and support. I am reminded of the pure eagerness and excitement to learn, and I think of the abundance of utter joy that fills the halls. The same support that Waterside gave me always extended to my family. Waterside ensured that our financial situation was never a worry. I credit all of my successes to the foundation of perseverance and eagerness to continue learning in the face of difficulties that Waterside instilled in me.” Dhasiya Anderson, Junior at Dartmouth College

“Coming out of Waterside, I dreamed of attending college and entering the business world, becoming the first in my family to do so at a four-year non-state institution As an incoming MBA student, I was required to work an internship prior to beginning classes. Even before explaining this to the alumni outreach team, they had plenty of internship opportunities lined up. While plenty of my fellow graduate students were also able to work for prestigious institutions, none were connected through their elementary school.” Juan Velez, MBA student at Providence College

“Our dreams and ambitions are for our son to be a happy, kind, intelligent, productive and successful human being. Waterside will help him achieve these goals. The school exposes students to higher learning and they benefit from smaller classes. The biggest difference we’ve seen is our son’s comfort within his school community and his ability to take risks and explore. Waterside has been an amazing experience for our son and our family! He greets each day with newfound excitement.” Soraya Molina, mother of Waterside 4th grade student

Cherishing roots, growing for the future

Much of what the School has been able to accomplish rests on the shoulders of those early Waterside visionaries who persevered. People like Duncan Edwards, the school’s first Executive Director who only recently stepped down. “I worked as hard as I possibly could and believed as deeply as anyone could. In full confession, though, this school, these children, these families have done more for me that I could ever do for them. If you love a place with a full and true heart, it will love you back many times over.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of all that Waterside has accomplished, but, truthfully, I am proudest of all that success has revealed—the promise and heart of the School’s children, current and past; the courage and character of the families served; and the deep kindness and generous wisdom of all those who have allowed the School to be.”

For more information about Waterside School, visit watersideschool.org