An Administrator's Story

Follow the journey of the St. John's of Little Canada-Reading Rays Wilson Program from its beginning in 2018 to its current status as a leader in the literacy community.

How the Reading Rays Wilson Program Changed Our School:  A Principal's Story

"Families know that, no matter what their children’s learning needs, St. John’s has what they need."

Case Study


Reading Rays is a local organization that provides instruction and complete management of Wilson Reading Systems tutoring in host schools during the school day. Our mission is to increase literacy in our region by offering access to high-quality reading tutoring for students with dyslexia and related learning challenges. For many small schools, providing specialized intervention programs is not viable. We increase access to reading intervention services by handling all of the operations of Wilson reading tutoring for schools, making it manageable for them to significantly expand the literacy services that they can offer students within their schools. 

We are grateful to our first partner school, St. John’s of Little Canada, where we developed and refined our model. We are proud of what we accomplished together in the past three years: doubling the number of students served per year, doubling the number of certified Wilson teachers, and increasing students’ reading proficiency by an average of two grade levels per year. Since its beginning four years ago, the St. John’s-Reading Rays Wilson Program has positively impacted the lives of 22 students. There were 14 students participating in Year 4.

St. John’s of Little Canada is a healthy, growing parochial school in the Twin Cities East Metro. Under the leadership of Principal Dan Hurley, the school has become a literacy leader, where the needs of all learners are being met. The Reading Rays Wilson program is a hallmark initiative that is growing and gaining the attention of the community.  Like all great innovations, the journey is a story worth telling. 

Noticing the Need

In 2018, when Hurley became principal of St. John’s, he noticed that there were a number of students struggling with literacy. In spite of the talented teaching staff and public Title I services, St. John’s did not yet have the academic programming to meet the needs of these struggling students. At the same time, he heard about a new opportunity for students with learning differences at a nearby Catholic high school. Hill-Murray High School was expanding their Nicholas Center, adding a Wilson reading tutoring program. The more Hurley learned about Wilson, the more he believed that St. John’s students would benefit from this program as well.

Why Reading Rays Wilson Program?

Hurley had reason to believe in the Wilson Reading System. Wilson is a proven intensive reading and spelling intervention program. Based on the well-established Orton-Gillingham principles, it is accredited by the International Dyslexia Association and is aligned with the large body of research that supports the “science of reading.” Its multi-sensory, structured, individualized approach targets students at the 1st-20th percentiles in reading. Typically students work one-to-one at least three hours per week with a certified Wilson teacher who has over 200 hours of clinical training. This is a sought-after intervention. Offering a program of this caliber at this small parochial school would open up new doors of learning for St. John’s students and would draw more families to the school. Families would finally find the help they have been looking for, seamlessly integrated into the school day. Partnering with the experts at Reading Rays would make implementing Wilson tutoring possible.

Reading Rays Comes to St. John’s 

Getting started with Wilson at St. John’s was no small matter, and Hurley jumped in with both feet. He was able to arrange for tutors and financial backing through a generous partnership with Hill-Murray, who sent over two of their certified Wilson tutors for the first year and a half. Word spread about the program, and a number of students transferred to St. John’s primarily because of this opportunity. As the Wilson program at St. John’s developed and expanded over the next two years, Hurley had to solve numerous administrative challenges. More students meant the need to find more space in the school, find more teachers, and handle more administrative details such as scheduling and parent communication. 

Fortunately, in 2020, all of the management of the Wilson program was taken on by Reading Rays. We were a new organization formed by experienced Wilson teachers who had already been working at St. John’s. Reading Rays was now able to handle all of the day-to-day management of the program, hiring and training certified Wilson teachers, and billing, contracting, and communicating with parents. Hurley could continue to offer a growing program without hiring or training his own staff or handling the details himself while also trying to meet his many other obligations. He could turn more of his attention to his next goal: fundraising. 

Creative Funding

All high-quality one-to-one instructional programs are costly for participants. Hurley realized that, as much as parents wanted to provide the tutoring their children needed, the cost would be a challenge for them. They would need scholarships. Hurley found public grant money and worked hard to get the word out about the impact of Reading Rays Wilson, hoping that others would be inspired to give. Students spoke at Mass about their learning, the annual school gala featured Wilson as its fund-a-need focus, and a matching gift campaign was all over Facebook. Starting with advance gifts from a generous donor, the St. John’s Church and School community responded enthusiastically. Scholarships are now available to all Reading Rays Wilson students, on a financial need basis.

A Word to the Wise

Hurley acknowledges that establishing the Reading Rays Wilson program at St. John’s was challenging, but seeing what it has done for his school has made it all worthwhile. He believes that what he has learned along the way could benefit other administrators who are interested in adopting this program. Here are some of his words of wisdom.

1. Learn as much as you can about the Reading Rays Wilson program. 

Do your research so that you can speak confidently about how and why it works. You will be “selling” it to parents, teachers, and donors. If you are in a Catholic school, you will need to gain the support of your parish priest. You can do this by reading up on structured literacy, dyslexia, Orton-Gillingham, and Wilson Reading Systems. You can also observe Wilson classes in person, and spend time getting to know the Reading Rays staff.

2. Start implementing it slowly, using the help of Reading Rays.

Do your best to plan well and get the nuts and bolts in place. Think creatively about where you can set up intervention rooms in your building. Lean on the Reading Rays team. Not only are they outstanding instructors who will be directly teaching your students, they can also manage all of the operations for you. With the help of Reading Rays, we are at the point where it feels like the Wilson program runs itself.

3. Get buy-in from your staff. 

Provide information about the Reading Rays Wilson program so they understand what their students are leaving class to do and what they can be looking for as they recommend students for the program. Analyze school data and talk about the programming needs of the school. Share student data as the program develops. I was able to invite the director of Reading Rays to do some professional development workshops for the staff early on, which has helped them to build a trusting partnership. 

The Reading Rays Wilson program has truly become a part of the fabric of St. John’s. Wilson students don’t feel left out; in fact they eventually volunteer to read aloud in their class and even at Mass. They appreciate knowing that there are other students at school getting the same kind of help that they are. The teachers feel supported because the work of meeting all of the students’ needs does not fall entirely on their shoulders. Teachers know that they can expect their classes to include a wide range of learning profiles, and they are becoming increasingly skilled in differentiating instruction. The parish priest is invested, knowing that St. John’s, more than ever, is serving all of God’s kids and fulfilling its mission of helping the world. Families know that, no matter what their children’s learning needs, St. John’s has what they need.


The ultimate evidence is in the outcomes. Students who were reading two to four years below grade level when they started the Reading Rays Wilson program are catching up. They are finding success in school, learning in every subject, and gaining confidence in themselves. Rather than experiencing constant failure, they are overcoming their dyslexia and learning disabilities. At St. John’s, in addition to Reading Rays Wilson tutoring, they are receiving the benefits of a mission-driven school with small class sizes. Parents are thrilled with their children’s growth and have shared comments such as “Our Reading Rays Wilson teacher has been tremendous helping our son grow as a reader and with his growth mindset!” and “We love Reading Rays! The support our child has received is amazing. The program has also taught me how I can best support our child. I don’t know where we would be without this program!”

The Reading Rays Wilson program has not only impacted specific students and families, it has enriched the entire St. John’s School community. Awareness and understanding of dyslexia is reducing stigma, and the school’s mission to help and support all children is being served more effectively than ever. 

Partnership is powerful. The model of instructional specialists expanding the impact of a healthy, independent school has been a win for all involved. For St. John’s of Little Canada, the model is sustainable and enriching, for Reading Rays, it is inspiring and energizing, and for our students, it is life-changing.