At typical big-city high schools the campus champions rest on athletic laurels. At Los Angeles' John Marshall High School the current heroes earned their trophies with intellectual victories. The team's winning performance at the U.S. Academic Decathlon proves that it is the best in the city, the state and the nation.
Its impressive victory--over 37 state champion teams primarily from suburban, private and parochial schools--also shows that public schools can work in urban areas as diverse as the Los Angeles Unified District, and not only in affluent areas such as Beverly Hills and Orange County, where the decathlon began in 1968.
Marshall's students live in Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Hollywood. The school is integrated racially, ethnically and economically. English is a second language for many students. All students are expected to learn.
Marshall's decathlon team--two students with A averages, two with B averages and two with C averages--excelled in Texas on an oral Super Quiz on the U.S. Constitution, on written tests in literature, history, mathematics, science and economics, in speeches and in essays.
The winners credited their victory to hard work, hours of extra study and their coach, David Tokofsky, 26, a magna cum laude graduate of UC Berkeley who earns barely more than $20,000 for teaching social studies and for demanding results and discipline from the decathloners. While coaching, Tokofsky created new opportunities for students to learn--an opportunity that some craved, bored as they were with the regular curriculum for students. He redirected the energy of David Florey, a C student who earned the top individual score, to use his intellect to become a high achiever. Tokofsky performed admirably the job that faculties are meant to do.
With their national championship, the students and teachers of John Marshall High School have earned the brand of bragging rights that matters.