BUTTE — Before bidding a tearful farewell to students in her honors government class at Anaconda High School Tuesday, Angela McLean promised them something in her new role as Montana’s lieutenant governor.
“I will take the voice of every one of you to the Capitol and to all 56 counties,” McLean said after her new boss — Gov. Steve Bullock — told the class they were now part of Montana history.
Colleagues, lawmakers and others said state government is gaining a passionate and dedicated classroom teacher who knows policy and the challenges facing public education at all levels.
McLean, 43, has taught American history and government at Anaconda High for several years, has served on the Montana Board of Education and since 2012 has been chairwoman of the Montana Board of Regents that oversees higher education.
In that role, she backed efforts to increase the percentage of Montanans with college degrees or certificates and helped impose a two-year tuition freeze for in-state students at most public colleges and universities in Montana.
The freeze was part of a 2013 deal Bullock worked out with lawmakers, including leaders of the Republican-controlled House and Senate that included funding increases for higher education and tying a portion of the money to college performance measures.
The primary goal was to make college more affordable, said Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner for higher education.
“She has brought a lot of dedication and energy as an advocate for students and faculty,” McRae said.
Bozeman Mayor Jeffrey Krauss, a Republican who has served with McLean on the Board of Regents, said her time there and on the Board of Education gives her some key credentials to be the state’s second-highest official.
“She has a lot of experience dealing with the press and the public and working with both sides of the aisle in the Legislature,” Krauss said. “It’s not just her education background; it’s that kind of experience you have to have.”
He said her devotion to education is sure to remain strong, especially because she and her husband, Mike — an attorney in Anaconda — have two children in school. Colin is an eight-grader, and Ellen is in fourth grade.
McLean, a graduate of Twin Bridges High School, becomes the first classroom teacher to serve as Montana’s lieutenant governor.
Anaconda High School Principal Paul Furthmyre said McLean is a persistent, goal-oriented educator who is dedicated to her students, the entire school and public education. She would not forget the values of teaching, he said.
“I think that is what they are desiring at the state government level, someone who is keeping the main thing in mind — someone who will keep their feet on the ground and the main thing the main thing,” he said.
Connie Ternes-Daniels, chief executive of Anaconda-Deer Lodge, said Anaconda schools will miss McLean.
“She just didn’t teach them, she got them to take an active role in their government,” Ternes-Daniels said. “But I think it’s a great day for Angela, a great day for the governor, a great day for Montana and a great day for Anaconda.”
During her high school years, McLean worked as a waitress at the Blue Anchor cafe in Twin Bridges, about 70 miles southeast of Anaconda.
She told her students she never imagined she would one day have an opportunity like this and hoped the kids she meets throughout Montana are as “bright eyed and eager to learn as you are.”
Rose Tracy, a 17-year-old senior in McLean’s class, fought back tears.
“It’s pretty emotional,” she said later. “She is just an incredible teacher. She taught us a lot about government, but she also taught us that we can do whatever we want to do if we work hard and put our mind to it.”
Sara Schaefer, an 18-year-old senior, said McLean referred to her students as “super scholars.”
“She realizes we are the future and without her we wouldn’t be the super scholars that she believes we are,” Schaefer said.