Granada Hills

Whatever the students and their coaches at Granada Hills Charter High School are doing to prepare for the annual local, state and national academic decathlon competitions, they do it very well.

The Highlanders team won its sixth California Academic Decathlon championship in the past seven years, besting 19 other Northern and Southern California high schools in Sacramento, following three days of testing competition March 23-26, in its Division I category.

Granada Hills totaled 55,211 points (out of a possible 60,000) to edge El Camino Real Charter, which totaled 54,017.4 points. Two other Los Angeles Unified School District schools — Franklin High of Los Angeles and Marshall High of Los Angeles — were third and fourth with 52.676.6. and 52,188.90 points respectively.

The Granada Hills team will travel to Madison, WI on April 28-30 to compete against students from across the United States, China, United Kingdom and Canada for the 2017 United States Academic Decathlon. A California school has won 14 consecutive national championships; that include the Highlanders’ victories in 2015 and 2016.

Team coaches Rachael Phipps and Jonathan Sturtevant said there is no magic formula for the Highlanders’ continued success other than “it boils down to our kids work extraordinarily hard.”

“This is a 10-month process, said Phipps, now in her third year as a coach. “In preparing for the competitions we have developed a partner system with our kids. They are not only accountable for their own scores but also their teammates.

Sturtevan, in his fourth year as a coach, agreed. “The kids feel it is a team competition even though they do a lot individual testing.”

He went on to say that this year’s team went into this year’s event without winning being their top priority.

 “They like each other so much they wanted to carry on tradition because they were working for and with each other,” Sturtevant said. “And we also have some returners.  But it can’t be about “just win.” If we told them they have to win, they wouldn’t want to do it.”

This year’s Decathlon theme is World War II, requiring students to study materials prepared by decathlon officials. The competition consists of seven multiple choice tests plus a speech, interview, and essay.

While the material stays the same from the local, state and national competitions, the questions always change.

“It’s so challenging that there’s almost no way to get a perfect score,” Phipps said. “You have to stay on top of the material. And you never really know if you’ve won until they announce the awards.”

Normally there is also a Super Quiz event that can dramatically alter the final results. But this year it was discovered  by the state director of the California Academic Decathlon that the test questions had been compromised.

The United States Academic Decathlon provides all tests to California for their competitions and requires use of those tests. Unfortunately, the state of Alaska was provided the same version of the Super Quiz test as California. The Alaska competition was held several weeks ago and their Super Quiz event was recorded and posted on YouTube, making these test questions and answers available to the public.

In the interest of fairness to all California decathletes, it was decided after discussion between the state director, representative board members and county coordinators to base competition results on the ten decathlon events only and exclude Super Quiz results.

In all, 581 students representing 67 high school teams in three divisions from across the state competed in  this year’s academic decathlon. Teams are comprised of 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 Granada Hills team include honor students Melissa Santos, Aishah Mahmud and Kevin Ly; scholastic students Mark Aguila, Christopher Lo and Peter Shin; and varsity students Sebastian Gonzalez, Sabrina Carlos and  Jordan Barretto.

Santos (9,575.1), Aguila (9,427.0) and Carlos (9,030.2)were also the highest individual Division I scorers in the honors, scholastic and varsity competitions.

Besides Phipps and Sturtevand, Harsimar Dhanoa helped coach the students.