The Minneapolis school district — the state's third-largest — will soon make a hire that's critical to the future of public K-12 education in the city.

Superintendent Ed Graff recently stepped down from his leadership post after six enigmatic years, and district leaders are searching for his replacement. It's an opportunity to find a stronger leader for the district.

Some school board members gave Graff high marks for student support efforts and were poised to begin negotiations with him on a contract extension, while others did not want him to continue. In our view, his departure was best for the district.

Graff did log some accomplishments, including centralizing magnet schools, mandating ethnic studies courses for graduating seniors, and working with the board on a strategic plan. His major failing was in communication. He rarely gave interviews and seldom was out in the community.

Though not an elected official, a superintendent "has to be a good politician," said former Mayor R.T. Rybak, who worked with several superintendents during his 12 years in office. And he has continued working with the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) in his role as president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation.

Graff was knowledgeable about education practices but did not "accept the critical role of listening more deeply to community, building broad-scale partnerships and getting people to support a big vision," Rybak said.

It's imperative that MPS hire a leader with superior communications skills who can build strong partnerships with district staff and with government, business, nonprofit and other sectors of the community.

In an interview with local news media, Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox outlined key goals for the year that she'll hold the job. She rightly said that being more visible, rebuilding trust and mending relationships are on her list of priorities. She also hopes to help implement the strategic plan set by the school board and create conditions that allow Graff's ultimate successor to succeed.

"I want people to know me personally, because that's how trust begins," Cox said. "I want people to feel very comfortable communicating with myself and our staff."

Like many urban districts, MPS faces serious challenges. During the past six years, the district has lost about 7,000 students. Its 28,000 remaining students and their families are still recovering from COVID-related disruptions and a teachers strike. And expected continued enrollment declines will put even further stress on the district's budget.

School board members should be looking for a visionary leader with strong financial skills who can build public trust in Minneapolis schools. The next superintendent will need to rally district families and the broader community to support MPS.

Difficult decisions await, including but not limited to enrollment and budget. Improved student achievement — especially among the most challenged groups of kids — is essential to keeping and attracting students to the district.