Granada Hills wins state Academic Decathlon

Granada Hills Charter High, a perennial contender, has won the California 2015 Academic Decathlon title in a weekend competition in Sacramento.

The team scored 59,040 points out of a possible 66,000.

Granada Hills will go on to compete in the national contest, which schools from the Los Angeles area have won repeatedly.

Other local schools also did well.


In the Super Quiz, the only portion of the competition open to the public, El Camino Real Charter High School finished first with 5,025 out of a possible 6,000 points. Granada Hills finished second in the quiz. Both schools are located in the west San Fernando Valley, which is part of the L.A. Unified School District.

In the full competition, L.A. Unified placed four other high schools in the top 10: El Camino Real (second), Marshall (fourth), Franklin (fifth) and Garfield (seventh).

Other local top-scoring schools were South Pasadena (third) and Beverly Hills (sixth).

Officials announced the results Sunday morning before an enthusiastic crowd at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.


“Congratulations to all our teams that proudly represented the LAUSD in the State Academic Decathlon,” said L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines in a statement. “I wish Granada Hills Charter great success in the national competition. The entire LAUSD family is proud of your competitive spirit, commitment and perseverance.”

The members of the winning team are: Irene Lee, Fernando Sanchez, Peter Cho, Jenean Docter, Jasmin Kim, Natalie Gonzalez, Tanthai Pongstien and Jorge Zepeda.

Outstanding merit was awarded to three top-scoring students: Sanchez and Lee from Granada Hills and Ethan Waldman from El Camino.

“All the kids are tired, but they were very happy,” said Cliff Ker, decathlon coordinator for L.A. Unified. “It’s really cool to see what good friends the kids from all the different teams are.”

The head coach for Granada Hills is teacher Matt Arnold, assisted by teacher Jon Sturtevant. El Camino’s coach is Stephanie Franklin.

By virtue of its second-place finish, El Camino also will continue to compete, as part of an online competition.

El Camino was the defending national champion, supplanting Granada Hills, which won the two prior years. L.A. Unified schools have dominated the national decathlon, earning 15 national titles since 1986. L.A. Unified also has won 21 state contests. California schools have won 12 consecutive national titles. This year the states will compete April 16 through April 18, in Garden Grove.

This year’s theme was new alternatives in energy. The competition has 10 parts, including essays, interviews and speeches and tests on the topics of art, economics, literature and music.


At the state competition, students also had to deal with a technical glitch, when a computerized system for answering questions faltered. Organizers switched to pencil and paper for the remainder of the weekend. The throwback approach was ironic given that students statewide are taking standardized tests on computers for the first time.

“The adults are apprehensive about this change and that change, but kids say, ‘Yeah, we can do it,’” Ker said. “They’re brilliant, hardworking and so flexible.”

Twitter: @howardblume 

Get our Essential California newsletter