Chirpy, the CPS Robot, takes over blocking phone calls... CPS unwelcome policy -- 'Thank you for calling... but Phuque Hue -- You can't call there from here anymore!'

Any parent or other person who tries to get through to a real person by calling the CPS main switchbvoard telephone number (773 - 553 - 1000) will be greeted with a menu in English that refuses to allow the caller to get through to a human being. After several years of outsourcing just about everything to cronies of Mayor Emanuel and others, CPS seems to have reached a kind of Nirvana of dysfunctionality just in time for the great summer of massive school closings and "Student Based Budgeting."

Substance has confirmed that Alicia Winckler, above in pearls, is not the voice actress who is doing messages from the CPS Robot nicknamed "Chirpy" for her chirpy little voice when frustrated citizens try to get a phone call through to a human being at the nation's third largest school system. Winckler does, however, currently bear the distinction of having headed more offices at CPS in less time than any other serving bureaucrats. Since Winckler arrived at CPS from Sears Holdings (one of the nation's foremost training programs for education leaders) a mere four years ago, she had been the $200,000-a-year (or higher; there are bonuses here) chief officer of "Human Resources," then "Human Capital," and currently "Talent" without ever having to move her desk. Every year or two, Chicago Public Schools comes up with a new Orwellian name for what used to be the personnel department. Substance photo from the May 22, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education by George N. Schmidt.Try it. Call 773 - 553 - 1000, which is the main phone number of Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third largest public education privatization program. "You have reached Chicago Public Schools," the chirpy but ominous voice message begins. "Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed. For school information, please visit our website at"

"If you are a student, parent or member of the community," the message continues, "Please press Three." Apparently, Chirpy, the CPS Robot, doesn't believe students, parents, or members of the community need to speak with real people. Every selection available pushes the caller back into the arms of Chirpy, the CPS Robot.

After trying for several minutes to break through Chirpy's blockade, Substance called the CPS Office of Communications, which has devoted the two full years since Rahm Emanuel's inauguration to fending off any real reporters, repeating talking points endlessly, and making sure that every CPS "Chief Executive Officer" is insulated from reporters' questions. After being on hold for several minutes following an attempt to reach a member of the financial staff with a simple question, we hung up, then went back to watching reruns of the early episodes of "Dexter," who had the only approach that might work in the Orwellian world established by the Emanuel administration's fictive version of human relations.

There are, of course, several droll moments. For example, Chirpy is behind schedule in her knowledge of current CPS jargon. Chirpy talks about the "Office of Human Relations" but CPS doesn't have one of those any longer. It's now called "Talent," having been focus grouped away from the short-lived "Office of Human Capital." The "Talent" Chief, of course, is still the former Sears Holdings Executive, carefully screened by the Civic Committee, Alicia Winckler. Winckler has been atop more CPS departments than most people who know about teaching, having been in charge of "Human Capital," and before that "Human Resources." But now, Wickler is earning her $205,000 per year (plus undisclosed bonuses) displaying how CPS deploys "Talent."


June 17, 2013 at 4:14 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

Reaching CPS

The situation is getting worse and worse. I've tried calling several times in the last few weeks and have given up out of frustration. There are a few departments that you can get through to if you have their direct number but otherwise you are in trouble.

June 22, 2013 at 5:38 PM

By: Jean R Schwab

School telephone messages

I was told by 411 that CPS does not release school telephone numbers anymore.

June 26, 2013 at 4:45 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Reaching central office departments

I think the problems people are having contacting various departments is driven by how few staff are left at Clark Street at any one time during the day. I know many people who have gotten out, retired, or are using up vacation time in anticipation of being laid off.

Then there is the problem of numerous departments being forced to assign staff to the school closing process which takes them away from their normal duties. It is likely to get more difficult in the months to come.

Rod Estvan

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