Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday named state Board of Regents chairwoman Angela McLean as his new lieutenant governor, an appointment the first-term Democratic governor said shows that education is the top priority of his administration.

McLean will replace John Walsh, the former state adjutant general appointed by Bullock last week as interim U.S. senator.

McLean, 43, is a native of Twin Bridges and a social studies teacher at Anaconda High School. Since 2012, she has been chairwoman of the board that oversees the Montana University System.

“As parents of school age kids, Angela and I know that there is nothing more important than a quality education _ it’s the proven path to job creation and economic growth _ and it’s the top priority of my administration,” Bullock said in a statement. “Angela will be a strong partner in making sure our schools and colleges are giving our students the tools they need to build an even brighter future for our state.”

Then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer appointed McLean to the Montana Board of Public Education in 2006 and to the Board of Regents in 2010.

She was the first in her family to graduate from college when she earned her bachelor’s degree from Western Montana College in 1994, according to the governor’s office. She later received a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Montana.

She and her husband have two children.

“As a high schooler waiting tables at the Blue Anchor Cafe it would have been hard for me to imagine one day becoming lieutenant governor _ but great teachers and the support of my friends, my community and my family have made today possible for me,” McLean said in a statement.

Regent Jeff Krauss, who is also Bozeman's mayor, said he considers McLean a friend after serving together the past two years on the Board of Regents, even though he was appointed as a Republican and she is a Democrat.

“Angela will be missed,” Krauss said. “I'm celebrating her continued success.”

McLean could step in as governor if ever needed, he said, because she's always “very well-organized, well-prepared.”

Krauss said McLean helped a lot with emphasizing two-year schools in Montana and winning $1 million from the 2013 Legislature for veterans programs in college. Tying some Montana University System funding to “performance-based” measures like graduation rates wasn't her first choice, he said, but she became a supporter and that helped win an extra $5 million from the Legislature.

“I just think she's very approachable,” Krauss said. “People should have confidence for her to listen and empathize and understand their positions, and that's important in a leader.”

Montana State University President Waded Cruzado congratulated McLean in a statement that called the new lieutenant governor an exceptional leader, teacher and role model for Montana's young people. Cruzado said she is grateful to McLean for her work, which “repeatedly demonstrated her commitment to higher education” and to MSU.

Walsh is expected to be sworn in Tuesday as Montana’s senator. He is replacing Max Baucus, who was confirmed last week as ambassador to China.

Regent Paul Tuss of Havre will replace McLean as head of the Board of Regents until a new chairman is selected later this year, Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said.

McLean’s seat and that of Regent Todd Buchanan, whose term is ending, will be up for appointment by Bullock.

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