When COVID-19 made its way to Arizona in March, Governor Doug Ducey’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected Executive Order combined with concerns from parents and educators compelled K-12 schools to quickly transition to online instruction.

 Schools meeting AZDHS guidelines for opening began resuming in-person classes as early as July. Today the list of schools transitioning back to online instruction is growing due to recent outbreaks and concerns about spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Online learning may be here to stay for a while.

The Arizona State Board of Education Arizona Online Instruction (AOI) program was designed specifically to help K-12 schools offer a formal online program. Rio Salado College’s Educator Preparation team helped develop the review process and works with the Board of Education to evaluate school programs.

“We eagerly accepted the invitation to collaborate with the Board on this AOI program,” said Rio Salado Educator Preparation Faculty Chair Jennifer Gresko. “As a leader in online learning in Arizona with an expertise in K-12 education, it was a natural fit for our college.” Gresko was involved in the development of the review process to assess school plans for offering instruction and services to K-12 students in a virtual setting.

The review includes a rigorous, written evaluation of the school program and an assessment of an in-person demonstration, which is also evaluated by Rio Salado’s Instructional Design and Technology team. In-person demonstrations are now completed in an online video format.

“Our goal was to streamline the process and create consistency in the expectations for all K-12 schools that are providing online learning opportunities,” said Gresko.

Each review team includes three Arizona certified teachers with expertise in Special Education, Secondary Education and Elementary Education.

The program has been available to K-12 public and charter schools since 2011 but only a handful of schools have opted to undergo this approval — until COVID-19.

“On average, we have reviewed four AOI applications a year for the past nine years but once the Stay at Home order was enforced, we saw a surge of 73 applications this year,” said Rio Salado Educator Preparation Instructional Coordinator Julie Ferin, who has served as a primary reviewer since the program’s inception. “Fortunately, our college has a scalable operational model and talent pool of professional educators we work with to help us meet this unexpected demand for reviewers.”

“As an online institution specializing in teacher education, we have the expertise, resources and partnerships with K-12 subject matter and instructional design experts to provide a robust review of Arizona’s online instruction,” said Gresko. “That will help ensure best practices are being implemented to effectively educate our most precious national treasure— our children.”

Rio Salado College is one of ten Maricopa Community Colleges and one of the largest online public community colleges in the nation, serving nearly 50,000 students annually with more than 28,000 online in 50 states and internationally. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, Rio Salado offers 600+ online classes, 135+ degree and certificate programs and general education courses. The college also provides support for dual enrollment, military and incarcerated students and serves as the largest provider of adult education in Arizona.

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