Success from the start

Every child should enter their first classroom on day one confident and ready to learn.

Our Mission seeks to blend the best aspects of learning science, mentoring relationships, and innovative technologies to form community, school, and home programs that deliver excellence and equity for all learners.

Our Story was founded by Dr. Dustin Heuston, a pioneering educator who believed every child is entitled to lifelong learning success. Over the years, Dr. Heuston built a collaborative model of child, family, and educator engagement that delivers significant and lasting academic achievement gains. In 2009, that model was launched in Utah with Dr. Claudia Miner as Waterford Upstart, a kindergarten readiness project serving 4-year-old children and their families. Funded by the Utah State Legislature, Waterford Upstart delivers computer-adaptive instruction at home alongside personalized support from Family Education Liaisons, who monitor progress and empower parents as their child’s first teachers. Thanks to generous sponsors and partners, Waterford Upstart has expanded to more than 15 states, and Waterford serves over 300,000 children annually through at-home and in-school programs. And that number is continuously growing! 

Our Beliefs believes while every individual has the capacity for growth at every stage of life, childhood academic experiences are uniquely critical for setting a lifetime learning trajectory.

In Philadelphia, nearly two-thirds of children cannot read at grade level by the fourth grade, a challenge made worse by a shortage of pre-kindergarten program access. Thanks to philanthropic support and a local partnership with Read by 4th, delivered Waterford Upstart at no cost to families in the community, including Kimberly Johnson and her 5-year-old son, Kingston. believes the thoughtfully coordinated support of parents, teachers, and other mentors gives students the ambition and resilience they need to reach their full potential.

Wichita Falls Independent School District in Texas faced a significant challenge. Nearly half of their students were entering kindergarten unprepared. partnered with the district to offer Waterford Upstart directly to families in the community for kindergarten readiness at home and Waterford Early Learning in K-2 classrooms. believes learning is intrinsically motivating, and it is accelerated when properly matched to an individual’s needs and interests.

In Utah’s rural Duchesne County, 8-year-old Sadie Cifuentes had completed her Waterford Early Learning courses and was ready to practice her reading skills more independently. provided Sadie with the independent reading platform, Curriculet, and her love of reading exploded! She was excited and self-motivated to read over the summer – her mother Bennie Cifuentes had to pull her away for chores and bedtime. believes effective approaches for teaching and learning are best identified by research that is rigorous, iterative, and pragmatic.

In Utah’s Washington County School District, about half of the schools are Title I with students who faced significant achievement gaps and were unable to catch up with their peers. The district ran two early learning programs simultaneously to prepare their children for kindergarten. After a head-to-head comparison, the group of children who used software displayed greater gains in early literacy and were better prepared to enter kindergarten than students who did not use Waterford. believes rapid advancements in technology will continue to increase the precision, adaptivity, and availability of high-quality learning programs, and these innovations offer hope that all individuals can receive excellence and equity in education.

Cherrise Parrish lived in a home without running water or electricity in rural and isolated Monument Valley, Utah, home to primarily Native American families. To overcome access challenges, provide the Parrish family and other families in their rural community with solar panels, satellite internet, and a Chromebook through the support of federal funding and the i3 grant so Cherrise could participate in Waterford Upstart. believes policymakers, philanthropists, and others who have the power to make proven, cost-effective educational solutions available to those in need have an urgent responsibility to do so.

In South Carolina, many families in rural and impoverished areas do not have access to PreK resources to properly prepare their children for kindergarten. After the success of a one-year Waterford Upstart pilot funded by the i3 grant, South Carolina’s legislature continued the program, funding it for two more years. Equity & Inclusion Statement

Waterford’s commitment to inclusive excellence is foundational to achieving our mission of universal literacy. is a mission-driven organization, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the heart of who we are and what we do. These values inform our decision making, talent recruitment, program development, and engagement with the children, families, and communities we serve.

When designing curriculum, engaging with families, collaborating with partners, or recruiting new talent, seeks out and makes space for diverse voices and perspectives. Waterford’s advocacy for universal access to early learning is rooted in our steadfast commitment to these values and in our mission to deliver excellence and educational equity for all learners.

At Waterford we aim for a workforce that represents the diversity of the communities we serve. We actively seek talent that represents diverse backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, and identities. We are committed to fostering a workplace culture and organizational identity that welcomes and values the unique contributions that employees and stakeholders bring in terms of education, culture, ethnicity, race, gender identity and expression, nation of origin, age, languages spoken, veteran’s status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and beliefs. We believe that diverse representation should exist across the breadth (functions) and depth (hierarchy) of Waterford.

An EPIC Approach to Inclusive Excellence at leaders and employees:

  • EMPOWER individuals from underrepresented groups by facilitating dialogues, being attentive to others’ cultures, and creating conditions for diversity of thinking to flourish.
  • PROVIDE programs and supports that center equity, value cultural diversity, and reflect an understanding of the communities we serve.
  • INVITE, recruit, and value talent and partners that represent diverse cultures, identities, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
  • CULTIVATE a culture of inclusive excellence at Waterford by: (1) Reflecting on our beliefs, behaviors, and practices through an equity lens; (2) Humanizing marginalized identities by mediating power imbalances based on race, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, dominant language, and socio-economic status; and (3) Engaging authentically through respect, appreciation, care, and cultural affirmation.

Our Waterford Upstart Families


The Martin Family

Mother-of-two Barbara Martin works four jobs, so having access to Waterford UPSTART and the parent support that comes from weekly check-ins with a Family Education Liaison helps her know her children will be ready on day one for school. Having the no-cost Waterford UPSTART project gives her access to early education services she wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford.

Apiel Kuot and Suman Rai

Apiel Kuot and Suman Rai—refugees from South Sudan and Bhutan, respectively—tell their stories of how Waterford UPSTART prepared their children for school, as well as the support they received as they learned English and gained access to technology for the first time.

Kingston and the Johnson Family

Meet Kingston and Kimberly Johnson, a family from West Philadelphia. Kingston and Kimberly are one of many families who, having no access to early education programs, benefited from philanthropic support and the Waterford UPSTART project, run by is Committed to Providing Early Education Access to Under-Resourced Populations

Under-resourced children suffer disproportionately when it comes to early education access. This means they are entering their first classroom 2-3 years behind their peers. Children from under-resourced populations who graduate from Waterford UPSTART, ran by and supported by philanthropic donations, come to school ready to learn on day one and have been shown to maintain academic gains at least through the fourth grade. Help change the lives of our most under-resourced children.

Meet the Leadership of

Andy Myers
President & Chief Executive Officer

Andy was named President and Chief Executive Officer in 2021, after rejoining Waterford as Chief Operating Officer in June 2016—nearly 21 years after starting his career in education technology sales. After that first role, Andy filled several leadership positions in sales and marketing before becoming COO for Pearson’s digital learning business unit and later Senior VP of Digital Product Development for Pearson’s U.S. K-12 curriculum division. More recently, Andy served as CEO at Scientific Learning and as CSO at Renaissance. Andy holds an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley.

Claudia Miner, PhD
Executive Director & Cofounder of Waterford Upstart

Claudia came to Waterford in 2007 with more than 25 years’ experience. She has developed, piloted, and scaled Waterford Upstart projects in Utah and more than a dozen states, with plans to serve more than 80,000 children by 2020. She is project director of the completed federal Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant and the current Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Expansion Grant. She was honored as a “Women Entrepreneurs Changing Education” by the Omidyar Network. Claudia received her PhD from Washington State University.

Donique Nobles Muhammad
Senior Vice President of Outreach

Donique brings over 15 years of education and nonprofit experience to Donique has coached school leaders, spent time building a special education department in South Korea, and worked on a leadership team with Teach For America. She joined the founding team of Freedom Preparatory Academy charter school in Memphis, where she served as Special Education Director and Dean of Students, and she led the school’s expansion into elementary education. Prior to joining Waterford, Donique led the antiracism and equity work at another education nonprofit. Donique holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Mississippi and a master’s degree from the University of Memphis.

Dr. Jenni Torres
Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Instruction

With over 25 years of experience in education, Jenni is a passionate curriculum designer and educator who manages the development of research-based content, correlations to standards, and creation of teacher and family resources. During more than a decade in the classroom, Jenni was selected by the U.S. State Department as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher for Uruguay and was awarded Teacher of the Year honors at the school, county, and district levels. Jenni earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, her master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her doctorate at American University in Educational Policy and Leadership with a focus on centering the voices of families in curriculum design. She is a proud military spouse, mother to three resilient children, and a fervent believer that literacy changes lives.

Jim Lund
Senior Vice President of Program Success

Jim has spent over 35 years in education and technology driving programs that help all children learn. He began his career as a Minnesota teacher and continued to grow in companies like Apple, Pearson, and the nonprofit MIND Research Institute. Jim’s diverse background includes the classroom, building user experience and professional development teams, and managing software engineers. At Waterford, Jim manages all aspects of the Waterford Upstart family journey: recruiting, implementing, training, and supporting participants. Jim holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in technology for training and development.

Kathy Landon
Chief Operating Officer

Kathy Landon brings 20 years of experience in leading diverse teams, finding creative solutions to perplexing problems, and structuring business systems and processes. Her passion for excellence and efficiency drive teams to deliver solutions that delight clients and customers. The teams Kathy leads are responsible for ensuring is building and delivering the right things, the right way.

Kim Fischer
Senior Vice President of Communication

As the National Spokesperson for since 2018, Kim Fischer has helped garner media attention from top outlets such as The New York Times, PBS, USA Today and The Associated Press, while also strengthening relationships with key stakeholders in government and nonprofit sectors. Prior to joining Waterford, Kim spent 16 years in journalism shining a light on the issues of violent crimes against women and children. Kim received a Gracie Award for Best Hard News in 2017 and was recognized as a 2018 Child Advocate of the Year by Prevent Child Abuse Utah.

Leah Dozier Walker
Senior Vice President of Equity and Inclusion

Leah Walker joined in 2021 after serving as the first Director for Equity and Community Engagement at the Virginia Department of Education. Leah has devoted her career to advancing social justice and community impact. With more than 20 years of public sector experience in human services, Leah has worked as a program administrator and policy advisor in the administrations of Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine and Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, as well as in the office of Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott. She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in political science from Hampton University, and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Lori Pugh
Chief People Officer

Lori joined in July 2019 as Chief People Officer after spending nearly eight years overseeing human resources for Deseret Digital Media and the Deseret News. She has over 20 years of professional experience not only in human resources, but administration, training, marketing, and legal—mostly in high tech industries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Education from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Utah.

Mike Hight
Chief Technology Officer

As CTO, Mike is responsible for Waterford’s product vision and software development. Mike has 15+ years of experience building products and analytic platforms in healthcare, politics, e-commerce, and education. His deep understanding of data and analytics has allowed him to repeatedly solve seemingly intractable problems. Mike holds a master’s in information systems from Boston University.

Rich Stombres
Senior Vice President of Government Relations

As Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Rich manages state advocacy efforts designed to expand Waterford Upstart programming across the country. Prior to joining Waterford, Stombres served as Vice President at the Penn Hill Group, as Director of Government Relations at the Van Scoyoc Group, and as the Deputy Director of Education and Human Services Policy for the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Stombres has a master’s degree from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of the State of New York, Regents College.

Todd Stevenson
Executive Vice President School Partnerships

Todd has spent the past thirteen years in the educational technology space, specializing in virtual, blended, and online learning, as well as district partnerships. Since his arrival at Waterford in 2016, Todd has led both inside and regional sales teams and was promoted in 2017 to Executive Vice President – School Partnerships. He is fluent in German and holds a master’s in Modern European History.

Tom Ness
Chief Financial Officer

With over 20 years’ experience, Tom has worked as a consultant advising businesses on best practices in accounting and management and helped a variety of startups mature from early-stage companies to established businesses. Of the three technology companies Tom has worked with, one had a successful IPO raising $42.3 million and was eventually acquired for $9.3 billion, and the other two were acquired for a total value of $497 million. Tom holds two bachelor’s degrees.

Meet the Board

Board Chair

Allison Gushée Molkenthin
Managing Director, Bentley Associates

Allison Gushée Molkenthin has advised a variety of tech-based companies on raising private equity, cross-border investments, and M&A. Allison has over 30 years of experience in investment banking and graduated from Brown University with AB’s in both Mechanical Engineering and in Comparative Literature, as well as an MBA from INSEAD in France. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for graduate research in photovoltaic solar energy in Morocco.

Vice Chair

Stephanie J. Monroe, JD
President and Founder, Wrenwood Group, LLC

Stephanie J. Monroe is President of the Wrenwood Group, a boutique Washington, D.C. health and education consulting firm. She has contributed to many family and child development efforts, including the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the Head Start Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, and No Child Left Behind.

Board Members

Ann Christensen
President, Christensen Institute

Ann Christensen is president of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, where she directs overall development and oversees its growing research programs. She has also worked at Huntsman Gay Global Capital, Elan Pharmaceuticals, and Deloitte Consulting. Ann holds a master’s in business administration from the Harvard Business School.

Benjamin Heuston, PhD
Executive Director,

As a leader in educational technology over the last two decades, Edward “Benjamin” Heuston continues the legacy started by his father Dusty. Benjamin is an active speaker in educational settings and is also a member of several boards and associations, including the SIIA Education Board, the Society for Scientific Study of Reading, and the International Gold Key Honour Society, as well as a mentor for Utah Entrepreneurship Challenge. Benjamin earned a PhD in psychology from Brigham Young University.

Ernest Blackwell
Founder and CEO, Equity and Beyond

Ernest Blackwell is the founder and chief executive officer of Equity and Beyond, which strives to build a community of leaders who can lead collective equitable efforts in their organizations. He is the first to serve in the board’s Taking All Students to Success in Early Learning seat, a newly established, rotating, one-year commitment. Ernest has a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics, and he earned a master’s degree in elementary education.

James Holbrook
Professor, College of Law, University of Utah

James R. Holbrook is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Utah where he teaches negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. Before joining the faculty in 2002, he practiced law for 28 years in the complex civil and federal white-collar criminal litigation. James earned a master’s from Indiana University and a JD from the University of Utah.

Todd Cranney
Partner, Riverwood Strategies

Todd Cranney’s experience with successful political campaigns allows him to deliver intelligent, thoughtful strategic guidance. Before co-founding his Idaho firm Riverwood Strategies, Todd served as National Deputy Political Director of the Romney for President 2012 campaign. Todd has also served in a number of leadership positions, including as a political appointee at the Department of Agriculture under President George W. Bush. Through his experience, Todd has developed an extensive network of political contributors and leaders in all 50 states.

Wayne Ysaguirre
Executive Director of the Care Institute

Wayne Ysaguirre is a new member of the Waterford board of directors and the Executive Director of The Care Institute. Previously, he was the President and CEO of Nurtury, and prior to that, Wayne was a preschool teacher and director of numerous programs. He has dedicated more than 30 years to the care and education of young children and their families.

Become a Board Member is seeking passionate individuals to become members of our Board of Trustees! In this role, your leadership would help us better serve our families, students, and partners as we work to meet our organizational goals around universal literacy, educational equity, and parent empowerment.

Board of Trustees Expansion: is building out our Board of Trustees to help fuel our progress in this next chapter. We aim to add several strong board members who bring exceptional experience, networks, leadership, and passion in early childhood and/or K–12 education. We’re also looking for board members who add racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity.

“I Did Not Have to Tell a Family ‘I Cannot Educate Your Child’”

Dr. Travis Armstrong, Director of Early Learning for Wichita Falls Independent Schools, recently explained:

“Every year in my career I’ve had to turn away families. For the first time in my career as an administrator, I did not have to tell a family ‘I cannot educate your child.’ The Waterford UPSTART project has been a godsend for our school district. I recently sat down and explained Waterford UPSTART to a family in our school, they said, ‘I don’t think we’ll be able to afford this.’ And I said ‘Good, because it is free to you.’”

Help fund a scholarship for a Waterford UPSTART child today!

“I Did Not Have to Tell a Family ‘I Cannot Educate Your Child’”

Dr. Travis Armstrong, Director of Early Learning for Wichita Falls Independent Schools, recently explained:

“Every year in my career I’ve had to turn away families. For the first time in my career as an administrator, I did not have to tell a family ‘I cannot educate your child.’ The Waterford UPSTART project has been a godsend for our school district. I recently sat down and explained Waterford UPSTART to a family in our school, they said, ‘I don’t think we’ll be able to afford this.’ And I said ‘Good, because it is free to you.’”

Help fund a scholarship for a Waterford UPSTART child today!

Proud Partnerships is proud to partner with individuals, organizations, schools, institutes, businesses, and governments who want to help all children gain access to academic success to attain a brighter future.