South Walton High School assistant principal James Ross is the first of his kind.

With eight years at South Walton High School and another five years at Emerald Coast Middle School, James Ross has been named the inaugural Walton County Assistant Principal of the Year.

Teachers voted on which assistant principal they thought made the biggest impact at their school.

"To have your peers vote for you that says you were the best one of the bunch is something pretty special," Ross said.

He said his introduction into becoming an educator began when he was asked by a friend to help coach baseball at Niceville High School years ago. From there, he caught the teaching bug and started substitute teaching, before landing a full-time job teaching math at Emerald Coast Middle School.

"I never in my life thought I would be in education when I left high school, and even after I got out of college," he said.

Years later, his connection to the community runs deeper than his role at South Walton High School. In 2014, after missing three months of work due to a kidney transplant, he said students, faculty and the community rallied around him during his recovery.

He now wears a green bracelet inscribed with the words "hope, courage and faith."

"It's hard not to be a faithful person when you see everything we've been blessed with and knowing it has none of my control," Ross said.

Looking ahead, he said he hopes to one day either become a principal, a superintendent or play another role in the school board's administration.

Ross added he wasn't "trying to move Russell (Hughes, school superintendent) out anytime soon," but has never shied away from the idea of being in the political spotlight.

"I'm still, I guess, young at 38," he said. "We'll see how things go."

For the time being, he said he plans to keep working to continue South Walton High School's success. Ross said that with every working decision he makes, his students' best interests will always be in mind.

"For me, it's all about — whether I'm an AP, a principal, a superintendent, a legislator — it's all about how can we make sure our education system is the best it can be and we're helping the most kids succeed after they get out of school," Ross said.