Ann Marie Awad

Ann Marie Awad's journalistic career has seen her zigzag around the United States, finally landing on Colorado. Before she trekked to this neck of the woods, she was a reporter and Morning Edition host for WRKF in Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capitol. In a former life, she was a reporter in New York City. Originally, she's from Buffalo, so she'll be the judge of whether or not your chicken wings are up to snuff, thank you very much.

Outside the newsroom, Ann is a comic book nerd, coffee snob, fledgling outdoorswoman and adventurous eater.

KUNC file photo

Nationwide, colleges have been working to make campuses more welcoming to all kinds of students. Many of Colorado’s major universities are no exception. One way to do this is the creation of a bias response team -- a group meant to address potentially discriminatory speech or actions. But according to a new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education -- also known as FIRE -- these teams may sometimes stifle free speech.

Grace Hood / KUNC

Although slightly more Colorado teens completed high school in 2016, the most recent report from the Colorado Department of Education says there’s still work to do to catch up to national trends.

2016 graduation and dropout data, released in January, marked a small uptick in the number of students finishing high school in four years — up to 78 percent, compared to 77 percent in 2015. This marks the highest it’s been since the highest it’s been since 2010, one year after the office of dropout prevention was created within CDE. Nationally, graduation rates were at 83 percent in 2015. 2016 numbers are expected to be available later this year.

Grace Hood / KUNC

Colorado’s 2017 legislative session has barely begun and lawmakers are already proposing diverse solutions for funding the state’s public schools. Most plans involve a new tax or a tax increase, meaning voters will likely get the chance to weigh in down the road.

Colorado chronically lags behind most of the nation in per-pupil funding, and also falls below the funding levels required in the School Finance Act. This year, an $876 million shortfall is expected according to projections from the governor's office, up from $830 million last year. This marks the 7th year in a row where the state's schools are funded at recession levels.

Colorado Department of Education

By the time she was appointed to the job last month, Katy Anthes had been at the helm of the Colorado Department of Education since May 2016 as interim commissioner. She took over the post after then-commissioner Rich Crandall abruptly left the job four months after his appointment.

She begins 2017 mandated to make changes to state standardized tests and uncertain about the federal education policy she may be tasked to implement. And she’s staring down the business end of this year’s legislative session -- a time that often seems to throw curveballs when it comes to education policy.

Nathanial Bork

Nathanial Bork was fired from Community College of Aurora in September. He claims it was because he was trying to blow the whistle on what he considered a weakening of academic standards in the classroom.

Now, the American Association of University Professors is investigating the firing. At issue is whether or not the college has watered down certain courses to allow people to pass more easily.

Denver Public Schools

Colorado’s Supreme Court will hear the first arguments in a case challenging a provision of the state’s teacher evaluation law on Dec. 7. The lawsuit - brought by a Denver-area teacher’s union - accuses Denver Public Schools (DPS) of interpreting the law in a way that denies teachers due process. The suit also alleges that the law itself is unconstitutional.

Ann Marie Awad / KUNC

Editor’s Note: This story contains language some may find offensive.

University of Northern Colorado President Kay Norton has issued a response to reports of harassment on campus. In an email sent Dec. 5 to students, faculty and staff, Norton cited “serious concerns” over reports of racially charged incidents from the student body.

“I am deeply concerned that a number of incidents which were clearly directed at individuals and intended to be aggressive have taken place on our campus in recent weeks,” Norton wrote.

Grace Hood

Eighteen states allow for the use of medical marijuana to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but Colorado is not one of them. According to state health leaders, there’s not enough research available to make the case. That hasn’t stopped veterans who rely on marijuana to treat their symptoms.

One of those veterans is Denver resident Curtis Bean.

Greeley-Evans School District 6

School districts along Colorado’s Front Range told voters they needed money for a long list of improvements -- everything from tightening security to building new classrooms. The results were mixed, with some districts getting what they asked for and others forced to dig deeper into their budgets, doing more with less.

Jeremy Jenum / Flickr - Creative Commons

Starting January 2017, school districts will adopt changes to their graduation requirements that could provide new avenues for students to complete high school. Districts must choose at least one item from a “menu of options” designed by the Colorado Department of Education, which includes various standardized tests, a “capstone” or portfolio project, or concurrent enrollment for college credit. For each option, schools are given specific English and math benchmarks. If they choose, individual districts are able to establish higher benchmarks for their students. Before the guidelines were approved last fall, Colorado’s only statewide requirement to finish high school was a civics course.