MINNEAPOLIS – Where some saw challenges, Michael Bratsch saw an opportunity.

The new teacher in a newly reopened school announced to his students last fall, “There is no school song. This is our chance.”

And so began the project that would help define the year at Franklin Middle School in North Minneapolis.

On a mission
Let’s go
Let’s make it
We’re on a roll

Franklin has always been an underdog school, situated in a part of Minneapolis where crime and poverty have left their marks.

Ninety-six percent of the students currently enrolled qualify for free or reduced price lunches. All but one percent are children of color.

Eight years ago, amid declining enrollment, the school was shuttered and left for dead.

Franklin Middle School principal Karon Cunningham poses for a photo with a student.

Then, last fall, it reopened with a $12 million facelift, new teachers and several hundred students pulled from at least eight other schools.

We’re the rockets
Taking off
As team
Blast off

“I wanted it to be a fresh start. I also wanted students to have a voice in it,” said Karon Cunningham, the principal tasked with re-launching Franklin.

Among Cunningham’s hires was Michael Bratsch, a second-year teacher with an MBA and a background in the music industry.

Franklin Middle School teacher Michael Bratsch founded the Future Boys and Future Girls club.

“He really supports the mission that we have here, that every child can learn at high levels,” Cunningham said. “I basically told him in the interview that I was not going to accept ‘no’ as an answer; that he would be here at Franklin.”

Bratsch took the job and immediately began leaving his mark. Students in Bratsch’s English as a Second Language classes are logging some of the most improved reading scores in the district.

The teacher papered the school walls with posters for Future Boys & Future Girls, a leadership club Bratsch launched that later provided the students who helped write and sing the song.

We will shoot for the stars
We’re the Franklin Rockets
As a team all together no one can stop us.

Several of Bratsch’s music friends pitched in, lending an air of professionalism to the studio recording.

It all fit with Bratsch’s teaching philosophy that students learn best when they don’t realize they are learning. “It’s an opportunity for students to come in and learn state standard academics, but learn it through projects,” he says.

Glentrel Carter, a Franklin eighth-grader, was the first student in the school to sign up for Future Boys & Future Girls.

Franklin Middle School students (left to right) Iyonna Riddley, Jasmine Jackson and Thidathip Crockett.

“I knew he was going to be cool the first week of school,” said Carter, who insists “Mr. B” isn’t gaining his popularity by going easy on his students.

“He’s strict,” Carter continues, “yeah, strict in a good way. Like making sure we stay on our grades, making sure we’re the leaders of the building like we’re supposed to be, making sure we don’t goof off, making sure we help people, making sure we stay out of drama.”

Bratsch, who teaches in a suit and tie, says his MBA study influenced his teaching style. “I treat my job as if I worked at Cargill or General Mills every day. It’s a professional job and I just like to operate in positivity and professionalism.”

This spring, the Franklin school song was made into a video, shot and edited by Ben Anderson, a member of the MPS communications staff.

The video was unveiled to thunderous applause last week at a school assembly attended by interim school superintendent Michael Gore.

Also in the crowd was Helen Hunter, Glentrel Carter’s mother. “I teared up,” she said after the video was played. Hunter credits Bratsch for helping students “grasp life skills, not just school skills.”

Bratsch hopes his students have produced a school song Franklin children will still be singing in 20 years.

“Seeing the growth in the students and seeing in their eyes that they believe in themselves, that truly is the payoff,” Bratsch says.

S-u-c-c-e-s-s
Strive for great-n-e-s-s
We’re taking off like rockets
On our way