The longtime executive director of the Upper Arlington Education Foundation will step down next month.

Joanie Dugger has been at the helm of what's also known as the UA+Ed for the past 16 years as it's sought to partner with the district to "enhance what matters most."

That's meant campaigning on behalf of various school levies and bond issues and raising money to fund grants aimed at supporting programs, materials and other opportunities for students that exceed the district's budget.

Now the foundation has some 60 funds that provide assistance to everything from students in financial need to college scholarships for specific areas of study and athletics, as well as for technology and other equipment that can be integrated into classrooms.

The organization is in a good place, Dugger said, thanks to tremendous support from the community and dogged work from its board of trustees and volunteers.

That's what comforts her as she prepares to leave her post March 31.

"I've decided that it is time for me to pass the torch and move on to new adventures," Dugger said. "It has been an extremely difficult decision, but (my husband) Glen and I are ready for a bit more time and flexibility in my schedule so that we may experience what we are seeing so many of our peers enjoying -- grandchildren, travel, family-and-friend time, exercise, etc."

As Dugger prepares to exit, the UA+Ed is planning its future and accepting applications for the executive director position. Information is available at info@uaeducationfoundation.com.

Regardless of who succeeds her, Dugger said, the foundation is more than its executive director.

She cited the work of its board, as well as program and project specialist Alice Finley and donor records specialist Megan Potts as keys to the organization's ongoing effectiveness.

"Joanie has taught me the importance of relationships," Finley said. "One of my most treasured relationships is with Joanie. She has touched so many of us with her huge heart. I know her family will love spending a lot more time with her."

"We have such an incredible team," Dugger said. "When I look back, I am most proud of helping educators secure extra funding allowing them to provide really extraordinary educational opportunities for our students."

Under Dugger's leadership, the foundation's annual Golden Bear Bash has grown to become a community affair and fundraiser that has raised $849,179 through 2016, making it a signature event to support local schools.

She also pointed to two new programs that are bringing innovative learning to Upper Arlington High School.

Led by Finley and UAHS research and design lab instructional leader Laura Moore, a group of students is putting the final touches on the inaugural UA Idea Day, a Feb. 9 symposium for students and teachers aimed at inspiring them about ways to use their skills to forge change.

"This entire experience offers a truly incredible opportunity for both students and teachers," Moore said. "Not only has UA Idea Day provided a number of unique, real-world learning challenges for the students who are planning the event, but their efforts have produced an opportunity for their peers unlike any other we have ever had."

Additionally, Dugger hailed the UAHS FIRST Robotics Team, which was established after a student approached her and Finley with an idea for a grant to help launch a 25-student team.

Since then, the FIRST Robotics Team has received backing from NASA, and students will spend six weeks designing and building a robot to perform challenging tasks in competitions at the local and national level.

Superintendent Paul Imhoff said Dugger and the foundation have helped UA schools remain a "lighthouse district" that others seek to emulate.

"The Education Foundation has done so much for our students and staff, and for so long, Joanie has been behind the scenes helping teachers, donors and trustees to connect," Imhoff said. "Simply put, we are a better school district because all of our UA+Ed staff members work together to help us dream big and try new things."

Dugger said she has seen every administrator in every UA school building and at the Central Office change at least once.

"I started as the youngest person in the office and have now graduated to the role of grandmother -- literally and figuratively," she said. "Together, we have made great progress in achieving our mission of 'enhancing what matters most.'

"The dollars raised, grants awarded and students reached have grown significantly while at the same time, our balance sheet and our foundation have never been stronger.

"Simply put, I am so proud of what we've accomplished together."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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