WESTPORT — While the Board of Education tries to push through funding for two additional police officers for Westport’s middle schools, an officer, Ed Wooldridge, has already begun work at Staples High School as the first-ever police officer to be housed at the school.

Funding for Wooldrige’s position is thanks to a decision by the Board of Finance to reappropriate funds from the D.A.R.E. officer program, which Superintendent Colleen Palmer said was deemed ineffective nationally and suspended in Westport this year.

Wooldridge, 48, joined the Westport Police Department in February 2017 as a patrol officer following 23 years with the state police. Raised in West Haven, Wooldridge said he knew he wanted to work with the state police ever since a state trooper spoke at his high school.

“It just interested and triggered something in me. If you look at my high school yearbook, it says ambition: state trooper,” Wooldridge said.

Before joining the state police, however, Wooldridge served in the U.S. Navy for the three years following high school and then returned to Connecticut. It took him another three years to join the state police, but at age 24, Wooldridge was hired.

Wooldridge worked as a patrolman and also served as a K-9 handler for his first 12 years. From his base in Bridgeport, Wooldridge patrolled state roads, primarily Interstate 95 in the New Haven, West Haven and Milford areas.

Next, Wooldridge transitioned to the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, where he stayed for 11 years and worked on a narcotics task force.

“It was basically mid- to higher-level drug dealers that we would try to do larger scale investigations on,” Wooldridge said. Most of the work involved police-informant based drug buys and, over the last few years, Wooldridge saw heroin and pharmaceutical pills became more prevalent where he worked in northwest Connecticut.

“It was probably one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my law enforcement career. I would do that in a second again if I had the opportunity to,” Wooldridge said of his work with the narcotics task force.

When the Westport patrol officer position opened in 2017, Wooldridge saw it as a good opportunity and decided to retire from the state police. An announcement later went up for a new Staples school resource officer position, and Wooldridge said he threw his name in the hat because he was interested in working with a youth population.

“I have two kids of my own and I’m very involved with them sports-wise, for years as a coach and coordinator as part of our little league organization. I like working with kids, I always have,” Wooldridge said.

To prepare for his new position, Wooldridge attended a a six-day SRO school that covered mental health, school violenc and social media related topics.

“Ultimately, the main purpose of this (job) is obviously safety for the students at the school and the faculty, but the other aspect of why I’m there is as another resource for the kids if there’s something at home or something in the school they’re not comfortable with going to a teacher or the principle about,” Wooldridge said.

Part of Wooldridge’s job is to work with different town agencies and related groups outside town to coordinate student care and safety.

“This town has always had a great relationship with the schools and human services, but I think it’s more out of necessity than it ever was just because of the dangers,” Wooldridge’s supervisor, Youth Division Sergeant Jill Ruggiero, said.

Students who come into trouble with police will also benefit from Wooldridge’s presence in the school, Ruggiero said.

“Getting to know that student on a daily or weekly basis or whenever you see them within the school allows us to follow that kid if we have to take enforcement action. That in the juvenile world really means providing resources,” Ruggiero said. “You arrest somebody on the street and it’s hard to keep that monitoring up to make sure he’s getting what he needs.”

Relationships are central to his role as the Staples SRO, Wooldridge said.

“I expect some of the kids maybe do think ‘Hey, he’s just here to arrest us, he’s not welcoming,’ but that’s totally the opposite. Our goal is not to arrest kids, but we’re still there as a law enforcement presence. If it comes to that point, then we address it at that time,” Wooldridge said.

Most days, he gets to school ahead of the buses and spends the day around the school or speaking to classes.

“I try to be visible at the lunch periods because that’s when the mass of kids are coming. That’s been huge, because the kids are starting to come up to me now, they’re shaking hands. It’s been pretty welcoming,” Wooldridge said.

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1