Steven Cronce, Oxford Elementary School’s first resource officer, at his office, where he displays some of his bass guitars. “It’s a great conversation to have with the kids,” he says. “Many don’t know what a bass guitar is.” Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

OXFORD — Sometimes the route to one’s calling is short and straight. Sometimes meandering. For Oxford Elementary School’s first school resource officer it took 12 years.

“I feel like I was the person meant for this job,” Steven Cronce said. He said his life experiences and master’s degree in school administration have “turned out to be a huge benefit for everyone.”

Cronce stepped into the newly created position with no precedent or operating manual and plenty of challenges.

“My first day … was Nov. 15,” he said. The school was in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a teacher shortage. There were no students, so one of the first things he was tasked with was reaching out to some who had stopped engaging in schoolwork. He made house calls to about a dozen, a jarring way to start with a police officer knocking at the door.

“The school did the best they could to let the families know to expect me, but that’s not 100%,” Cronce said. “I’d go out and have to introduce myself.”

Cronce tried to make it clear he wasn’t looking for apologies but to provide communication.

“Families were doing the best they could,” he said. “But sometimes the internet connection didn’t work, or they thought their kids were doing their work. I told them I wasn’t out to write tickets but to help. I’m proud that attendance went up within a month of me coming in.”

When Cronce moved to Maine in 2004, a career in law enforcement was not on his radar. He worked in ministry, which originally drew him to Oxford Hills. In 2011 he joined the Norway Police Department where he spent the next eight years .

He learned School Administrative District 17 was planning to have a school resource officer for Oxford Elementary School in the spring of 2020, but the position had not been approved by the town. In the meantime, he joined the Army National Guard but training was put on hold because of the pandemic.

Last fall, just as he was heading home from basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Cronce received a text from Sgt. Zachary Bisson: the position was open and it was his if he wanted it. He immediately said yes.

With the school in remote learning, Cronce’s early days were a bit lonely.

“As soon as (students) came back I started visiting classrooms,” he said. The younger kids were very welcoming but sometimes the older ones would just stare.

“One student kept asking why I have a gun, if it was real,” he said. “It says right on the front door of the school ‘no guns’ and kids wanted to know why I could. It was a pretty big thing to overcome.”

Cronce assured them it is real and meant for the school’s protection.

“I told them that if anyone ever tries to come on school property and tries to hurt any of the kids, I am going to stop the bad people,” he said. “I will do whatever I can to stop them, and the gear I wear will help me do that.”

It also took time to establish a police connection, especially in the first days of being in the building.

As the only male in the school, aside from a couple of substitute teachers, Cronce is the only one some students interact with during the day.

“Many of the teachers took the time to thank me for coming to OES,” he said. “Kids need a male role model in their life and they are grateful I was willing to do take the job.”

Cronce has found his bass guitar collection is a good way to break the ice with students who are not sure how to approach him. He has several hanging on the wall, along with an amplifier to power them.

“It’s a great conversation to have with the kids. Many don’t know what a bass guitar is,” he said.

Cronce is also school resource officer for Oxford Hills Middle School’s South Campus in Oxford.

“It’s great to see them come in on the bus, waving and enthusiastic to see me,” he said. “It’s become more casual, more accepting. The kids know I am here to do a job, and I will stop what I am doing to help them with whatever problem they have.

“The whole Oxford community has been very welcoming,” he said. “I want to say to the community, ‘I see you, I know that you’re there for me.’ It doesn’t go unnoticed. The little gestures, people waving like you’re a part of them. It’s the cool side of policing. We’re here for the community, but I also rely on them and appreciate them.”

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