Granada Hills Charter High School wins national academic decathlon


Granada Hills Charter High School won the national 2015 Academic Decathlon on Saturday, marking the fourth time in the last five years the San Fernando Valley school has claimed the honor.

The school earned 53,592 points out of 66,000 in the scholastic contest, beating out 46 other high school teams for the title. More than 450 students gathered in Garden Grove his week to compete in the three-day decathlon, whose theme was alternative energy.

Members of the championship team included Peter Cho, Jenean Docter, Natalie Gonzalez, Jasmin Kim, Irene Lee, Tanthai Pongstien, Fernando Sanchez and Jorge Zepeda. Julia Howelman is the administrator, and the coaches are Matt Arnold and Jon Sturtevant.


“I’m always amazed by the incredible dedication of the Academic Decathlon’s students and coaches, and for the sacrifices they and their families make in preparing for the competition,” said school board member Tamar Galatzan. “I’m very grateful to all of them and so proud to have Granada Hills Charter representing Los Angeles Unified.”

The team members, who are winnowed from a group of about 50 who try out over the summer, spent more than 30 hours a week studying. Most skipped school dances, sports, student government and other campus activities in their all-consuming fervor to master the material. They sacrificed time with family and friends. As the pace intensified, they deleted Instagram from their phones and blocked their own access to Facebook.

Members of the team said recently that all the sacrifices were worth it.

“Of course,” said Irene Lee, a senior who tied the L.A. Unified decathlon individual record in February with a score of 9,461.4 out of a possible 10,000 points. “Watching myself separated from the senior class was hard, but it makes you realize how meaningful working hard is.”

Jorge, a junior, said he joined the decathlon to improve his work ethic and study skills -- and he has. As a sophomore, he got a couple of D’s, but this year his grades have soared to A’s and B’s.

“I saw it as a way to not spend my time unwisely,” he said. “It’s a great experience if you want to get on the right track.”

“Congratulations to the members of the Granada Hills Charter team for your exemplary performance,” said Ramon C. Cortines, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. “With your laser-like focus, team spirit and devotion, you proudly represented the LAUSD to the rest of the country.”