When you take a walk in downtown Tucson with Carrie Brennan, you’re likely to stop often and talk to people she either knows or is interested in meeting: students, parents, teachers, and cultural, business and government professionals who are part of the fabric of this blossoming city center.

Carrie was the founding principal of the downtown-based City High School and served in that capacity from 2004 to 2015. For the past two years, she has led the nonprofit CITY Center for Collaborative Learning (CITY CCL), which now oversees the high school and the Paulo Freire Freedom Schools. The two Paulo Freire middle schools joined CITY CCL in 2016.

Locating downtown was important to the schools’ founders because of the easy access to potential school-community partnerships. They are experts when it comes to creating those connections, and Carrie literally walks the talk as she builds relationships on her way to meetings and school activities.

“Our approach to teaching and learning is rooted in real-world creativity, exploration and experience. We think of downtown as an extension of our schools. In any given semester, students are visiting and learning with community partners like ZUZI! Theatre, Xerocraft, the Public Library, Playformance, and the Tucson Museum of Art,” said Carrie.

How the Nonprofit Loan Fund Helped

The beautifully restored Cele Peterson Building is home to City High School and Paulo Freire Freedom School-Downtown. Next door is the historic Howard & Stofft Stationery building, erected in 1941 and in need of renovation. Together the two buildings, linked by a creatively designed alley-turned-garden, create a vibrant downtown campus on Pennington Street.

Thanks in part to the Nonprofit Loan Fund, phase one of the Howard & Stofft building renovation will begin this year; phase two will be completed by 2020. Phase one will focus first on getting an educational certificate of occupancy for the historic building. The ground floor space will be transformed into a large multi-use performance and project space for students and provide dedicated areas for culinary and makerspace activities, which explore and create using a variety of materials and tools. The newly renovated building also will be available as a resource for educators and the general community.

More about CITY Center for Collaborative Learning

The education nonprofit’s expertise includes project-based learning, small school design, professional learning communities for teachers, student-led conferences, and community partnerships. In addition to running three schools that implement these practices and ideas every day, CITY CCL shares them with education professionals to help transform teaching and learning more broadly.

CITY CCL’s five-year strategic plan places a high priority on having a greater impact on the education landscape and serving as a resource to teachers. Headed by Santo Nicotera, co-founder of the Paulo Freire Freedom Schools, CITY CCL’s professional development program offers workshops, school study tours, and coaching for educational leaders and school teams.

“We are partnering with educators and the broader community to rethink the way we think about and ‘do’ school,” explained Santo. “How can we transform teaching and learning so that all kids are learning to their full potential and loving school? That is our vision.”