Monday, March 21, 2016


By Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News |

Granada Hills Charter High School won the 2016 California Academic Decathlon in Sacramento this weekend and will compete in the nationals in Alaska next month. Photo courtesy of Nick Weber

3/20/16, 12:47 PM PDT | SACRAMENTO   ::   Granada Hills Charter High School won this weekend’s California Academic Decathlon in Sacramento and the ability to compete in the prestigious national competition next month in Alaska.

It’s the San Fernando Valley school’s fifth state championship since 2011, and it will be vying for just as many national titles when it competes at the 34th annual United States Academic Decathlon Competition April 28-30 in Anchorage.

Granada Hills Charter’s score is “the highest team score ever in the history of Academic Decathlon,” including the nationals, said Cliff Ker, coordinator for Academic Decathlon at Los Angeles Unified School District, by phone Sunday. “There was a huge gasp in the audience when they announced their score.”

The nine-member team beat out 68 other schools by scoring 61,149.6 points out of a possible 65,400, followed by two other LAUSD schools — Franklin High School in Highland Park, which earned 59,133.3 points and John Marshall High School in Los Feliz, which earned 59,109.15, according to California Academic Decathlon.

“We went into the competition feeling prepared but we also knew that our competing schools were just as prepared,” said Granada Hills Charter senior Joshua Lin. “We went into the awards ceremony very nervous, not sure what the outcome would be.”

Lin earned the highest score of any student in the competition — 9,600 points out of a possible 10,000 points.

Granada Hills Charter, which won the national title last year in Garden Grove, is well aware of its competition and believes that Highland Park High School in Texas will be the team to beat in Alaska, said Mathew Arnold, a Granada Hills Charter team coach. Only one school from California is allowed to compete in the national competition that’s held in a different state each year.

“The way they work for each other is one of the main reasons they’ve been as successful as they have,” Arnold said by phone. In addition, “they’re fortunate to be at a school where the support for the team is really strong.”

LAUSD’s El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, which won the national championship in 2014, came in fourth place this year with 59,104.5 points while South Pasadena High came in fifth with 56,845.7.

As second place winner, Franklin High School will now compete against other large schools in the national online competition in April. West Covina Unified School District’s Edgewood High School, which earned the medium school title, and Fresno Unified School District’s University High School, which earned the small school title, will also compete against similar-sized schools in the online competition.

Granada Hills Charter and Marshall High School both earned the highest possible score in this year’s fast-paced Super Quiz relay involving multiple choice questions on a variety of subjects. El Camino Real Charter and Bell High School tied for second, while Edgewood High School from LA County finished third in the relay before an audience that resembles a game show format.

Each nine-person team must include three honor students (3.75 and above GPA), three scholastic students (3.00-3.74 GPA) and three varsity students (2.99 GPA and below.)

Members of the winning Granada Hills Charter team are Aishah Mahmud, Joshua Lin, Melissa Santos, (Honor); Isha Gupta, Jorge Zepeda, Mark Aguila, (Scholastic); and Mayeena Ulkarim, Christopher Lo, Julian Duran (Varsity). In addition to Arnold, Jon Sturtevant and Rachael Phipps are coaching the team’s students this year.

For Zepeda, who is competing for a second consecutive year, being on the Academic Decathlon team has helped him to be more organized, focused and goal oriented, he said.

“It’s also helped me to be a better person, to learn to take responsibility, to know what it means to be a leader and to help your teammates,” said Zepeda, who said he looking forward to a well-deserved spring break this week.

Another San Fernando Valley school, Burbank High School, earned the top score among Division II teams. Division I teams include the top 20 highest scoring teams, while Division II includes the next top 20 teams, according to the California Academic Decathlon.

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