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Morgan Hill
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May 27, 2023

‘Distinguished’ community

Charter School of Morgan Hill earns state designation 

Charter School of Morgan Hill—which has sought success by building and maintaining its community of students, alumni, parents and staff members—has been named a California Distinguished School for 2023. 

The two-year distinction was announced in January by the California Distinguished Schools program. The program, administered by the California Department of Education, selected 356 out of 5,872 California elementary schools (the top 6 percent) as Distinguished Schools. 

“California Distinguished Schools represent examples of not just excellent teaching, learning and collaboration, but also highly successful, data-driven school efforts ranging from professional development for educators to mental health and social-emotional wellness strategies to address the needs of students and families,” State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond said in a press release. 

Charter School of Morgan Hill (CSMH) serves grades K through 8th at its campus at 9530 Monterey Road north of town.

CSMH parents and staff said the Distinguished School designation “validates the herculean efforts of the entire community at CSMH.” That community includes not only the students and teachers—many who have spent lengthy careers at CSMH—but also a wealth of dedicated parent volunteers and alumni who continue to support the school with fundraising, administration and an active scholarship program.  

CSMH Principal Susan Pfefferlan said, “This award is truly a testament to the whole—our staff, parents, students and community. We pride ourselves on being a family of learners and this is validation of our commitment to project based learning and fostering the development of the whole child.”

The California Distinguished Schools program—which began in 1985—returned this year after it was put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in the temporary suspension of the reporting of state and local student data, according to the program’s website. 

“The exceptional elementary schools recognized this year are illustrative of the hard work, dedication and resilience shown by educators and schools across the state after communities struggled for multiple years with urgent effects to physical and mental health and unprecedented challenges to delivering education,” says the CDE’s website. 

The CDE uses multiple measures to identify eligible Distinguished Schools, based on their performance on standardized state indicators. Those measures include assessment results, chronic absenteeism, suspension rates and socioeconomic data. 

Furthermore, the Distinguished Schools program recognizes schools for their work in one of two categories: closing the achievement gap and producing “exceptional student performance,” according to the CDE. 

At CSMH, staff owe the distinction to the “creative methods” that teachers and faculty have implemented since the pandemic; and striving to meet not just students’ academic needs, but also the social and emotional needs of students and families, says a press release from CSMH. 

“Students will learn to develop a growth mindset and build relationships essential for success beyond the school grounds,” says the press release. “Initiatives, such as the school-wide book program, allow parents and students across all grades to connect and learn together. Continued education for parents is provided in the form of school counselor-led book clubs and workshops on important subjects that impact youth such as mental health, stress management and parenting techniques.”

When it comes to on-campus curriculum, CSMH focuses on its “unique project based learning model,” which encourages students to explore and experiment in a collaborative hands-on environment, and equips students with the problem solving and critical thinking skills to become “lifelong learners.” 

On a recent visit to the CSMH campus, the school’s Family Engagement Coordinator, Diana Gill, pointed out numerous examples of such project based learning and the CSMH community. 

In the school’s main courtyard on Feb. 17, seventh grade teacher Patricia Anex and her students were sorting recyclables collected from throughout the campus for their year-long service project. Younger students at nearby picnic tables sat with parent volunteers who helped with their daily math lesson by counting and sorting pasta grains. 

“The school’s foundation is community,” Gill said. “We all work together.”

Inside an eighth grade classroom, students had designed and built a nautical-themed “Poetry Cafe” that helps maintain their interest in their literary studies, Gill explained. A sixth grade class this year is studying “The Harry Potter Experience,” in which they read the popular books and learn about the mythical hero’s journey. 

Fifth grade teacher Kathy Funke’s class is running their own horticultural business—which the kids named Busy Bees—that will result in a campus plant sale in March. The students are learning about every aspect of how to run a business—from material costs, marketing and operations, to finance and Human Resources, Funke explained. They have learned how to complete spreadsheets and balance budgets. 

Fifth grade students spent the morning Feb. 17 planting seeds for various flowers and vegetables into grow trays before continuing their work for their spring plant sale project in the campus garden at CSMH. Photo: Michael Moore

“They are in charge of everything,” Funke said. 

So far this year, in preparation for the plant sale (which will be open to the public), the students have planted at least 10,000 seed pots, Funke added. Plants include ornamental and decorative flowers, as well as edible vegetables, herbs and fruits. 

In the classroom on Feb. 17, kids planted a few trays of seeds (including onions, broccoli and heat tolerant lettuce) before taking the lesson outside to the school garden, where they worked on transplanting and “color bowls” that will grow into impressive displays by March. 

The fifth graders were working on only a small portion of the campus garden, which includes student-run composting facilities and livestock pens with animals raised by CSMH students. 

CSMH will formally celebrate their designation as a California Distinguished School on March 3, with a groundbreaking ceremony to begin the construction of a new academic building on campus. 

Enrollment is open at CSMH through March 3. Parents interested in sending their children to CSMH can gain more information on the school’s website,

Students in Patricia Anex’s seventh grade class at CSMH sort recyclables Feb. 17 for their year-long campus service project, which entails daily collection, sorting, storage and disposal of recyclable materials. Photo: Michael Moore
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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