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Franklin, Granada Hills tie for first in academic Super Quiz

L.A. academic decathlon winners are a perennial powerhouse and an upstart team trying to build its reputation.

Granada Hills Charter High School and Franklin High tied for first place in the Super Quiz portion of the Los Angeles Unified School District's annual Academic Decathlon, officials said Sunday.

The two teams each earned an unofficial score of 65 points in this year's "battle of the brains" contest held Saturday at the Roybal Learning Center near downtown. Students from 59 high schools competed in the event.

The Super Quiz is the most public portion of the decathlon and features teams of students quickly answering a series of questions in a game show-like competition. This year's study topic focused on "alternatives in energy." 

Because the quiz unfolds in real time, there is excitement and special prestige attached to it.

This year, a technical glitch added to the drama by leaving the outcome of the contest in doubt for several hours after the event's late-afternoon conclusion. Tallies are typically projected almost instantly but a software malfunction caused the delay. Organizers held off on announcing results, even as coaches and students scrambled madly to compare unofficial tallies. 

For Granada Hills, a large, diverse campus in the west San Fernando Valley, the good news was familiar--anything less than a stellar performance would have been disappointing. Granada Hills is a repeat past winner of the national academic decathlon and finished second last year.

Franklin High, in contrast, has worked hard to turn around a reputation as a school that top scholars would want to avoid.  In 2013, the most recent year for which standardized test scores are available, the Highland Park campus ranked in the lower 30% of schools statewide and as average when compared to schools with similar demographics. Franklin High is 90% Latino; well over two-thirds of its students are low-income.  Franklin’s enrollment has declined sharply in recent years, but its scholars shone as brightly as any on Saturday.

This year, they were boosted by the return of highly regarded social studies teacher Sam Kullens, who had moved to Atlanta after his wife landed a coveted job there, said Cliff Ker, the district's decathlon coordinator. The couple decided to return to Southern California, and Kullens resumed his coaching role this year.

"So many teams are creeping up into the upper echelons, which is a huge credit to the coaches," Ker said. "This a competition and coaches want to win, but it is remarkable how much they work with each other. They all work together so everybody succeeds."

Tied for third place, just one point behind, were El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, and Marshall High in Los Feliz. El Camino is the reigning national champion.

The winner of the overall competition will be announced Feb. 13. Other elements of the contest included written exams, speeches, interviews and essays.

The top teams in L.A. Unified will proceed to the state competition, where they have typically dominated. Schools affiliated with L.A. Unified have claimed 15 national titles since 1987, according to the district.

Because L.A. Unified is so enormous, with about 10% of the state’s K-12 enrollment, it counts as its own regional division in the decathlon. Other L.A. County school districts staged a separate competition over the weekend, with West Covina’s Edgewood High prevailing in that Super Quiz. 

Twitter: @howardblume 

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