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Thomas, Dunn honored by UGA for community service

Two longtime Athenians with deep roots in the community’s schools are being honored for their service by the University of Georgia.

Richard Dunn and Xernona Thomas are the 2023 winners of the Footsteps Award, an honor given to University of Georgia graduates who embody the legacy set by the university’s trailblazing African American students.

Dunn founded the Athens-Clarke County High School Completion Initiative, a program created to raise graduation rates in local high schools. The program academically supports students and introduces them to career and educational opportunities. In 2020, Dunn started a student-hosted weekly radio show called “Education Matters,” which aims to raise graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color.

Dunn also created The Athens Courier in the 1980s to reflect the needs of people of color in Athens. He also hosted the weekly radio show “Community Forum,” which centers on Athens politics and community issues.

In Dec. 2020, Xernona Thomas was appointed as the superintendent of the Clarke County School District, making her the first woman to fill the role. Thomas previously worked in Clarke County schools as a social worker, assistant principal, principal, chief of staff. Throughout her 31 years in education, Thomas worked to reduce educational barriers facing students of color and implemented education reform programs.

In 2013, Thomas created with UGA the Experience UGA partnership, which aims to increase graduation rates by bringing local K-12 students on an annual field trip to UGA. During the pandemic, Thomas provided students technology and internet access for at-home learning. She also mandated CCSD schools to hold breakfast and lunch for all students 18 and younger five days a week during the pandemic. Thomas left her position as superintendent in fall 2022.

Dunn and Thomas will be recognized at UGA’s Hunter-Holmes Lecture on Feb. 28 in the UGA Chapel. Georgia Supreme Court justice and UGA School of Law alumna, Verda M. Colvin, will give this year’s lecture. The lecture is held annually in honor of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Hamilton Holmes and Mary Frances Early.