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LAUSD gears up for Academic Decathlon

November 22, 2011 | 10:37 am

Cliff Ker

Academic Decathlon students from Los Angeles Unified School District high schools gathered over the weekend for a practice test -- or "scrimmage" -- offering the first taste of the rigorous intellectual challenge for the year.

With a dozen national titles since 1987, including Granada Hills Charter High School's win last year, the district has become the best in the nation in the grueling academic competition.

Cliff Ker, the coordinator for Academic Decathlon for L.A. Unified, warned participants that it would be months before the decathlon regionals, and even further to the national competition. But the signs were hopeful. Granada Hills, as well as other longtime decathlon contenders El Camino Real, Marshall and Franklin high schools, topped the scoreboard.

There had been some doubt at the beginning of the year regarding Ker's status. Ker, whose sole assignment for the district had been to oversee the decathlon competition, was to split his time this school year between his decathlon duties and an assistant principal's post at Bell High School as part of districtwide budget cuts over the summer. But after further shakeups he was named the coordinator for academic events in the district's Beyond the Bell program, a position more compatible with his decathlon duties, he said.

Most importantly, he said, the scrimmage offered him a chance to get to know this year's crop of decathletes. He keeps photos of past champions in his office and can rattle off the names and the colleges where long-ago participants went after graduating.

"Every year, I say I'm never going to see another group of kids like these," Ker said, with a laugh. But as they do every year, new competitors come through and impress him. "These kids are amazing!" he said.

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-- Rick Rojas

Photo: Cliff Ker, coordinator for Academic Decathlon for L.A. Unified, in April. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

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