Co-founder of TOP Early Learning Centers leaves for new job

12/04/2013 2:35 PM

12/04/2013 2:36 PM

The TOP Early Learning Centers educate more than 600 preschool children at three locations in Wichita every year, TOP officials say.

Janice Smith, who co-founded the Centers, is leaving the organization, TOP officials announced Wednesday.

Wichita entrepreneur and philanthropist Barry Downing, raised in poverty himself, created the TOP schools, beginning 12 years ago, vowing to aggressively address the root causes of poverty.

He says TOP has done that, dramatically improving academic performances of children ages 12 months to age 5; getting them special education help much earlier in their schooling, if it was needed; and improving their chances of staying in school after they leave TOP.

“I’ll always be the co-founder of TOP and will always be proud of what we’ve done there,” Smith said Wednesday.

Downing has said he believes people in society should be responsible for themselves, but that many people in poverty are not socially or financially equipped to get out of poverty.

Downing said today that he founded TOP, with Smith’s help, after research showed him that many taxpayer costs could be headed off with appropriate early childhood education. Costs headed off, he said, include unwanted teen pregnancies, gang involvement, drug use, poor housing, and the costs of building shelters to protect people from abuse.

Cornelia Stevens, who has worked for the Kansas Children’s Service League, will replace Smith as TOP executive director, TOP officials said in a written statement today.

Smith said she has taken a job as executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, which promotes early-childhood programs in the state

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