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Mission High: The School, The Mural, and Now, The Book!

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Since we opened our Valencia Street location in 2011, all signs have pointed to Mission High.

It started with the mural. When the restaurant was under construction, Joe and I decided to ask our resident artist Paul Madonna to paint Mission High to go along our patio wall—after all, the school is the Mission District’s most beautiful and iconic landmark, not to mention the oldest comprehensive high school in the city. So Paul sketched and painted and blew it up to be wall-sized and our mural turned out to be amazing.

Note to self: Paul scribbled little words in the mural and one of them, on the grounds of Dolores Park, says “pot smokers.” Foreshadowing to my son’s future?

If it wasn’t enough to have an illustration of the high school as the backdrop of Tacolicious, last spring, our older son Silas was assigned by the public school lottery system to Mission High. While my heart said do it—it’s walking distance from our house and Pizzeria Delfina!—my mind wasn’t made up. Mission High is not a high ranking school; it’s the kind of place people like to call “up-and-coming.” On Great Schools—a popular site which ranks schools based on their test scores—Mission is given a 641 (API) and a 3 out of 10, while its community-based star rating is four out of five.

While I was waffling about this decision, as chance would have it, I invited Richard Carranza, the superintendent of the Unified San Francisco School District, in for lunch. In an effort to promote the Tacolicious School Project, I intended to bribe him with tacos. While polishing his plate, he told me his daughter was attending Mission High in the fall. He had great things to say about it. It was at that moment I decided fate had spoken: Silas was meant to be a Mission High Bear.

Superintendent Richard Carranza: Member of the clean plate club.

Superintendent Richard Carranza: Member of the clean plate club.

With Silas enrolled, the icing on the kismet cake came in August when Kristina Rizga, a former education reporter for Mother Jones magazine, released her book: Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It and the Students and Teachers Who Made it Triumph. I felt as if the book was published just for me—266 pages written to assuage any of my “up-and-coming school” concerns.

Rizga, who entrenched herself for four years at the school—and focused her eye on specific students and teachers—discovered a place with an exterior image that belied what was going on inside. She writes that Mission High is a school unfairly judged for its low-performance testing (not taking into account its large immigrant, ESL population), yet not properly evaluated for its high graduation and college enrollment rates, its small class sizes, its commitment to teaching critical thinking rather than to a test, and its generally happy and successful student population. As someone who practically flunked my SAT test and is still scarred years later, I’m all about not being judged on one’s ability to take a standardized test.

I’m happy to report that Silas is a month into Mission High and very happy. And I love that I can wave to Principal Guthertz when I see him in the neighborhood.

I’m also excited to remind you all that as of this Monday, the Tacolicious School Project is back in effect. From now until May, every one of our locations (including our sister restaurant Chino) will be giving 15 percent of a month’s worth of its Monday proceeds to a neighboring school. Click here to see which schools are the beneficiaries. To date, the Tacolicious School Project has raised $593,295.58. Help us reach our goal to raise a total of $850,000 for public schools by the end of this school year. If you’re interested in bringing together a large party to celebrate education on one of these Mondays, email us at Personally, I think teachers and tequila make a good mix.