City High School’s Downtown Roots Take Hold

January 31, 2014 |

What happens when a group of teachers who are frustrated with the educational system get together to brainstorm a new learning environment? Mix in an exciting and revitalizing Downtown as a school location, and you get City High School. Now midway through its tenth year, the charter school is marking this milestone with a bricks and mortar investment, increased enrollment and renewed strength.

City High School recenty purchased its building at 48 E. Pennington St. (far right, background) along with 37 E. Pennington St., pictured here in the 1960s as the Howard and Stofft Stationery store. photo courtesy City High School

City High School recently purchased its building at 48 E. Pennington St. (far right, background) along with 37 E. Pennington St., pictured here in the 1960s as the Howard and Stofft Stationery store.
photo courtesy City High School

Since 2004, City High School has called its building at 48 E. Pennington St. (the former Cele Peterson’s fashion clothing store) home. This is in large part due to the support of the Peterson family who helped the charted school get up and running. Now, City High has completed the purchase of this building as well as the adjacent space once known as the Shoe City building (37 E. Pennington St.), and will unveil a façade renovation this month. In addition, the Paulo Freire Freedom School is set to open a middle school within the City High campus in July of 2014, which will increase students and the unique learning opportunities now available Downtown by leaps and bounds.

Carving out a space in Downtown Tucson might sound like a no-brainer today, with dynamic development taking place on nearly every corner, but in 2004, it was a leap of faith. But having made that judgement, City High’s students have had front-row seats to watch the rebirth of our urban core, like no other group.

Founded by Carrie Brennan, Eve Rifkin and Brett Goble, City High began with just 80 students in 9th and 10th grades. A key element of the learning outlined by City High at the time was their use of Tucson, and specifically Downtown Tucson, as a textbook to augment the learning experience. In addition, other core concepts that the school embraced called for the school to remain small and intimate, to enhance the learning experience, to use the real world as a textbook and to prepare students for success in college. Other unique programmatic aspects of the City High education experience of note is their senior internship program which places final year students in real-world working places, many at Downtown businesses.

Back in 2004-2005, I had a chance to work closely with the first class at City High as they assisted me at the Fox Theatre (when I was the Executive Director, overseeing the theatre’s renovation). The students helped to provide necessary research during the Fox’s renovation. I found the students to be engaged, passionate, curious and thoughtful. The specific class structure that I interacted with for this project has since morphed into a school-wide “every day, relevant real world learning” tenant that impacts all students and the community on a significant level. According to Carrie Brennan, City High’s Principal and Executive Director, being a part of Downtown was “always the dream,” as was the desire to engage students in having an active roll in their community. Brennan is excited about the growing City High alumni base that is starting to make their own impact as adults, pointing to several who are finishing college, working Downtown and otherwise utilizing the tools and skills they received at City High.

As the school founders turn their eyes toward the second decade of City High, they remain grateful for the influx of private investment that has followed them back to Downtown and are excited about what the future holds.

On Feb. 8, as part of 2nd Saturdays, City High hosts a “Renovation Celebration” from 3-6 p.m. to unveil the façade renovation of the Shoe City building (37 E. Pennington St.), honor the school’s tenth anniversary and welcome the new middle school to the campus. The new façade will be the first step in returning the old Howard and Stofft Stationery store (Shoe City) to use after many vacant years, thanks in part to a grant from the Downtown Tucson Partnership. Additional interior renovation of the building is still to come.

More information about the school and the Feb. 8 event is at

Category: Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE