For the fifth time in six years, students at Granada Hills Charter High School have won the California Academic Decathlon. They will defend the school's national title in April.
The team won the state competition in Sacramento on Sunday with a combined score of 61,149.6 points out of a possible 65,400—the highest combined score in the competition's history.
With the victory, Granada Hills goes on to the national competition on April 28-30 in Anchorage, Alaska.
The team's coach, Mathew Arnold, said he was surprised by the outcome, given that this year's team had only one student returning from last year's group.
"We won by a margin that was much wider than we anticipated—that was one surprise," Arnold said. "But the second surprise was even just winning, because of the level of competition this year. The teams have really been neck-and-neck."
Granada Hills won the U.S. Academic Decathlon championships from 2011 to 2013, and again in 2015. It has won six championships in the Los Angeles Unified School District competition, with a victory in 2007 added to the proceeding championships.
"We really have built a strong, strong program," Arnold said. "Not just a team but a whole school program that is supportive of the kids and what they do. It is one of the biggest reasons we've been as successful as we have over the last six years."
In the academic decathlon competition, each school team fields nine students—three students from three different grade-point average categories—Varsity (2.99 GPA and below), Scholastic (3.00-3.74 GPA) and Honor (3.75 and above GPA). Arnold credited the strong performance of two of his team's Varsity students for helping Granada Hills Charter amass its record score.
"We're finding the right kids," Arnold said. "Maybe not at first, but they come to see it as a way to improve themselves and work on things they're not naturally good at."
Members of the team begin preparing for competition after school lets out for summer break. They work on their study routine throughout the summer and ramp up with increased work as the competition season nears.
"It's amazing to me every year to see how the kids grow from the competition," Arnold said. "It's an enormous challenge, an enormous amount of personal sacrifice for them. They don't have the normal high school experience for a year. And if they do it for more than a year, then they really have an unusual high school experience."
Over the years, L.A. Unified has emerged as an academic decathlon powerhouse, with several of its high school teams consistently winning state and national titles. Schools from L.A. Unified have won 16 national championships, more than any other school district in the nation.