Revolt in Cyberspace has principals screaming 'WTF???!' at CPS's most overpaid and incompetent executives during Webinar on implementation of latest Longer School Day deal

One of the most famous tag lines from Hollywood came during the introduction of the movie "Alien" — "In space, no one can hear you scream." But in Chicago in 2012, it was almost possible that in Cyberspace even the most obtuse members of the Chicago Board of Education could hear the screaming from hundreds of very well paid public school principals as three top executives from the nation's third largest school system tried to explain how the schools were going to implement the latest iteration of the "Longer School Day" but proved, once again, that if you have never walked the walk it's dangerous to pretend to talk the talk.

By the time she was playing with her Blackberry during the February 23, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (above), Alicia Winckler, who had been hired by CPS from a job at Sears Holdings and had no teaching or administrative experience, held the title of "Chief Human Capital Officer" and a salary of nearly $200,000 per year. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The scene was a CPS Webinar, the latest high-tech way the school system's executives have of avoiding contact with reality. As usual, the highest paid executive in CPS, "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard, was AWOL, as he has been from most public activities of the Board of Education during the year since he became the highest paid executive (at a quarter million dollar salary per year, plus perks including some kind of merit pay) in Chicago public education history. Brizard and the school board talk a lot about "accountability," but they all act as if they know that in Chicago, the fix is in and "accountability" is for the nobodies. The top dogs get to bite, and everyone else gets bitten. So Brizard doesn't have to try and explain to those he calls the most important people in the system — the school principals — how his latest deal will land in the real world of schools.

Instead of Brizard, the principals were treated to three of Brizard's best paid executive lieutenants: Alicia Winckler (whose department, after a recent "rebranding", is currently called "Talent"); Steve Gering (whose job title, after a recent rebranding, is not Chief of Network Solutions), and Monica Lee. Three years ago, all three of them were in some corporate world cubby holes. Today they are leaders of the third largest public school system in the USA.

Substituting for Brizard were three of the school system's hundreds of administrators without any local school experience:

Many of the new bureaucrats hired by CPS following the election of Mayor Rahm Emanuel were at the October 2011 Board of Education meeting (above). Alicia Winckler had just "rebranded" her department at that time. Formerly the "Office of Human Capital," is had become the "Talent Office." As the 2011 - 2012 school year went on, it became clear that FNGs with power and no oversight were dangerous, producing greater and greater SNAFUs that soon became FUBARs. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Alicia Winckler, the senior person in the group, with almost three years at CPS, is currently called "Chief Talent Officer" and is paid $205,000 per year.

Steve Gering, who is currently called "Officer of Network Support," is currently being paid $175,000 per year.

And Monica Lee, who is currently entitled "Director of New Initiatives," is being paid $115,000 per year.

Above, nine months before Steve Gergin had to help explain to Chicago's 600 public school principals how the latest iteration of the "Longer School Day" was going to work in the city's schools and classrooms, part of his job was to explain the "revolutionary" work of the "Chicago Leadership Cooperative" which was going to bring the nation's best principals and other school leaders flocking to Chicago. The slide above was part of Gering's November 16, 2011 Power Point presentation to the Chicago Board of Education. At the time, Gering, at $175,000 per year, was "Chief Officer of Leadership Development." In March 2012, apparently because of his success in developing leadership, Gering's job title was changed to "Chief Officer of Network Support" by a vote of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Gering was hired by CPS from outside in August 2011, so he has less than one year at CPS. Lee was hired on October 23, 2011. Both were hired for jobs that hadn't existed before they were given them, and neither of them has any experience as a teacher or principal in a Chicago public school. Alicia Winckler's qualifications for her current job include years at Sears Holdings and a facility with Power Point. Gering has also demonstrated his Power Point talents in front of the seven members of the Board of Education recently, although at that time he was "Chief of Talent Development" and was lecturing the Board members and the public on how CPS was going to revolutionize the selection and training of principals, while Jean-Claude Brizard stood by, nodding. A few months after outlining the revolution in principal training and development, Gering was rebranded and put in charge of the networks. Hence, his place in the July 25, 2012 Webinar.

Hundreds of Chicago principals were left scratching their heads about the expensive incompetence of the top administrators of Chicago Public Schools following an aborted "Webinar" that was supposed to help the schools implement the first major contract agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education on July 25, 2012. By the time the event was half over, three of the most expensive and inexperienced executives in American education had fled into Cyberspace, following their inability to answers some of the simplest grass roots questions from their local school leaders about how the latest reconfiguration of the Longer School Day was supposed to be implemented in the real world of Chicago's more than 600 public elementary and high schools.

Four months after his appointment to the newly created position of "Chief Officer for Leadership Development," on November 16, 2011, Steve Gering (above, at the podium) apparently justified his $175,000 per year salary and position by presenting a Power Point to the members of the Board of Education on the so-called "Chicago Leadership Collaborative." Above, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, who during his first year in office presented or introduced more Power Points than any previous education leader in Chicago history, looks on. The preparation and presentation of Power Point to an admiring Board has become a substitute for any credentials or experience in K-12 teaching or school principaling at the nation's third largest school system during the first year of the Rahm Emanuel approach to school policy and governance. Brizard, who was brought to Chicago from Rochester (where he had failed as superintendent of a much smaller school system) constantly reminds the public that he was once a teacher and principal, then returns to the womb of Power Point with the rest of his team. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Of course, who could blame them? The three officials who were tasked by Chicago schools "Chief Executive Officer" Jean-Claude Brizard with explaining the implementation of the agreement between the teachers union and CPS don't know anything about teaching or running Chicago's schools. All are outsiders brought in because of their corporate credentials based on the theory that any "business experience" is better than knowing how to teach in a Chicago classroom or run a Chicago school from the principal's office.

Alicia Winckler, who currently holds the title of "Chief Talent Officer", Steve Gering, who was "Chief Talent Development Officer" until a few weeks ago but now has been "rebranded" was the second out of towner brought out for the sow. The third, Monica Lee, is holding a job that nobody knew anyone needed to operate Chicago public schools until it was created for her. Two of them have less than a year at CPS, and the other has been in Chicago's schools a little over two years. None of them has any K-12 classroom teaching experience; none has ever been a CPS K-12 principal; and all of them seem to be the products of the orgy of teacher bashing and union busting that has speeded up since Rahm Emanuel created the latest Chicago Board of Education and executive administration beginning with his inauguration in May 2011.

The scene was the Webinar that was supposed to cover how the principals and the schools are supposed to make the new deal work. The headlines were still boiling in the daily newspapers about the settlement of one major issue between the teachers and CPS, but the real boiling point was being reached when the city's more than 600 principals tried to ask questions about how to make it work. Despite their salaries (which range from $120,000 to $150,000 per year), the principals were ready to scream WTF?!!! by the time the event was halfway through, and Winckler, Gering and Lee ultimately headed for the exits (if such things exist in Cyberspace) rather than try to continue displaying their ability to answer even the most basic questions about how to staff and run a Chicago public school.

After the principals bombarded Winckler, Gering and Lee with dozens of practical questions that they were unable to answer, the three leaders of education in Chicago exited the Cyber meeting room quickly, promising to return on July 26, 2012, with the kinds of answers that people who actually have to run real schools with real teachers in real time need if the schools are to open without chaos on August 16 (when the so-called "Track E" schools begin the 2012 - 2013 school year.

One of the many demonstration's of the fact that Alicia Winckler gave good Power Point came at the February 2012 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, when Winckler outlined the disastrous plan to eliminate accumulated sick days for non-union workers at CPS (including principals). As a textbook example of how Power Point can gloss over terrible policy mistakes, the above is going into the curriculum. With one silly stroke and talking point, CPS lost hundreds of experienced educators, replacing them with new hires whose only abilities were to get an MBA from an expensive university and present an infinite number of Power Points on an equally infinite number of topics detached from any classroom or school reality. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Principals who spoke with Substance promised to share the next iteration of the leadership work of the nation's third largest school system, although CPS is not going to host the Webinar for the public.

Substance reporters are organizing to report on how the current leadership's policies actually operate in the schools as classes begin resuming in August, September and October 2012.

While the Webinar was limping to a recess, the members of the Chicago Board of Education reminded those at the July 25, 2012 Board meeting of how much they loved the children of Chicago's public schools, with Board member Mahalia Hines complaining that some teachers who have been critical of the Board didn't speak "good English" and Board member Penny Pritzker, the only billionaire on the Board, complaining that complaints about her Hyatt Hotels are receiving TIF money were not "accurate" (actually, Hyatt is part of a development project at Lake Park and 53rd St.; the project, not Hyatt alone, is receiving the TIF money). The Board members all agree that business experience such as that exemplified in the Power Point presentations of Alicia Wincker and Steve Gering is best for Chicago's 400,000 public school students. Substance was unable to learn at press time whether any of the Board members would be witnessing the next iteration of the Webinar. 


July 26, 2012 at 7:57 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Interesting story but what were the principals questions

The story was interesting but the questions principals asked that were not able to be answered maybe are more interesting. Not one of those questions is discussed in the article. It would be helpful if at least a general summary was given of the types of questions asked.

The article also raises questions about the deal itself indirectly. If getting only one additional staff person to teach specials at most elementary schools, in particular large ones, really can create the reduction in instructional time required to meet the obligations stated in the deal for CTU staff.

Please provide your readers with some of these principals questions that CPS administrators could not answer.

Rod Estvan

July 26, 2012 at 12:45 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Principals' questions

Hi Rod,

Substance received a list of approximately 200 questions and some comments about principal stress and skepticism from Wednesday's webinar. Principals want to know about PSRP hours, report card pick up days, how to convert .5 positions, if they can stagger teacher start times, what determines which schools receive new positions, time distribution for content classes, if .5 positions have to have a match elsewhere, how supervision of 1000 + students can be done with two aides, if prep times be divided, who are the contact persons at CPS regarding ancillary positions, how much money in discretionary funds is really available for recess coverage or PD, etc., etc., etc.

July 30, 2012 at 12:24 PM

By: Lisa Keeley

Overpaid administrators should go first...

These high paid, inexperienced administrators like Alicia Winckler need to be laid off. They have no business trying to run a school system with no experience. In addition, labeling Human Resources as "Human Capital" in an educational system was insulting. CPS is not for profit. But then again, there is so much stealing going on-fancy trips, etc. CPS is a joke. The people they hire are a joke.

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