Well, we're new to the CH/C district, but after 2 days of school, I have a few first impressions.
Just so you know what I have to compare it to-- our old district was a very high-achieving, high rated district, too, but very structured and organized and corporate. My kids are 12 (bookish and mellow, 7th grade), 8 (mellow and loves school, 3rd grade), and 7 (VERY hyper, energetic, doesn't like to be still, 1st grade.
One thing I noticed different about both our schools here is that they're MUCH more casual and laid back. In our old district, teachers wore dress casual outfits and fancy shoes; here, it's not unusual to see teachers in jeans. There, the rooms looked very Martha Stewart and orderly; here the rooms look LIVED in, but in a wonderful way. Don't get me wrong-- they're professional enough, but it seems they focus more on the learning experiences rather than the image (imagine that!).
One other thing I've noticed at both schools-- much of the homework is more thinking than practice. Example: Instead of multiplication table worksheets, my 3rd grade daughter brought home 2 pages of logic activities ("Which of these rectangles is divided in half?" with zig zag lines going through several of them). My 7th grade son's pre-algebra homework last night was an activity instead of exercises out of the book: find 6 items available for purchase online, spend as close to $300 as possible, purchases over $100 get a 20% discount, purchases 50-99 get a 15% discount, purchases under 50 get a 10% discount). I like that it's not all memorization. Plus the kids are telling me there is a LOT of hands-on learning, even at the middle school.
Elementary school: in our school here, the walls of the halls are COVERED in fun posters and kids' work. The rooms have lots of bins of manipulatives and learning things out. In our old primary school (1st grade), the kids came in early in the mornings and sat quietly in the halls until it was time for school to start. Here, the kids who get there early come to the room, where there is some activity set up for them to do until school starts. Example: our first day here, when I walked my son to class, they had weighing/measuring activities out. At one table, kids had two big scales and lots of items and were weighing to try to balance out the scales. At another table, popsicle sticks were taped sticking out from the table, and the kids then had to clip clothespins onto odd-shaped cardboard cutouts to balance them on the popsicle sticks.
All of that to say that while there is definitely an academic focus, it still seems to be (at least in the K-8 grades and at my schools) a very kid-friendly, hands-on environment (much more so than our last district), and I'm impressed.
Even my 1st grader, who while he is academically bright is also VERY high energy and gets in trouble a lot, enjoys it, and says they spend MUCH less time sitting at the tables than he's used to. He says most of their day in 1st grade is spent at activity centers or floor time when they're not at lunch/music/art/etc.
Anyway, I'm sure that as we're here longer, situations will come up that we will need to address. But for now, we're happy.