Mandarin Meltdown: New Rochelle School Teacher Taken Out of Ward School on a Stretcher After Hysterical Outburst at City Hall

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HuiAltman 253"When I kill myself, it will be your fault," screamed Hui Altman.

Altman repeated her threat several more times before storming out of City Hall last Thursday, sending school officials scrambling to track her down. Eight police officers responded to City Hall with some scouring the City Hall parking lot and others heading to the two New Rochelle public schools where she was, up until last week, a teacher.

Altman was a probationary Mandarin language teacher at Albert Leonard Middle School and also ran the after-school Mandarin program at Ward Elementary School.

Reza Kolahifar, Assistant to the Superintendent for Human Resources, told police he was meeting with Altman in his office at City Hall when the incident began. He informed Altman that she was terminated due to poor teaching performance, effective June 30 at which point Altman became emotionally upset and threatened to take her own life.

According to police records obtained by Talk of the Sound, Kolahifar called police to report that Altman stated "When I kill myself, it will be your fault." Kolahifar later told a police Detective investigating the incident that Altman made several remarks about harming herself. There are unconfirmed reports that Altman also made statements about harming others but no officials sources have confirmed those reports.

After the call came in, police immediately began searching the parking lot and area around Beaufort Street behind City Hall looking for Altman or her blue Honda CRV but were unable to locate her or her vehicle. Police were informed that Altman had left the area and was possibly returning to one of the schools where she teaches.

Two detectives located Altman's car, unattended, in the parking lot at Ward Elementary School. The two detectives went to the office of Ward Principal Franco Miele where the two detectives located Altman. Two other officers responded to the location and an ambulance called.

Altman was removed from building on a stretcher and taken to Sound Shore Medical Center for further treatment after paramedics determined Altman had an abnormal blood sugar level. A paramedic told police that the blood sugar level and blood pressure medication was a possible cause for Altman's behavior. Medical staff and hospital security were advised of the situation.

After the incident on March 29th, Altman's name was removed from the district web site A resolution was passed at the recent school board to replace her at the Ward after-school Mandarin program.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

John Imburgia on Sat, 04/07/2012 - 10:57

Bob,

I usually agree with what you write but this time I have to take odds with you.

This poor woman suffered from both physical and mental problems and must also deal with the stigma of being fired from her job. The last thing she needed was for this incident to be publicized which will now create even more stigma for her when she seeks future employment. I believe, but could be wrong, but the JN has a policy that they will not print inflamatory information about people unless criminal activity is involved.

Just my opinion.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Sat, 04/07/2012 - 17:37

John,

Your sympathy is misplaced. This is a woman who obviously had no business being in charge of a classroom who lost control, became a threat to herself and others and then made a beeline for an elementary school with over 800 children. Was this first such outburst? Is this part of why she was terminated?

I don't know what was going on with this woman and not sure I care very much. I am more worried about protecting children in the district from a woman who was a danger to herself and others.

I am not sure how you know this "poor woman" suffered from physical and/or mental problems. All I know for sure is what was in the police report and there is nothing definitive about her physical or mental condition. All we know is what behavior was reported to the police by the school district and a possible cause of behavior attributed to her by someone other than a doctor or trained psychiatrist making what amounts to a snap judgement.

For all we know this is just a person who is unable to control their anger and lashed out and those around her. Either way, I do not want her around my children or anyone else's children and if this article results in her never being hired as a teacher again I would no problem with that.

I suppose you have the luxury of not being concerned about the fact that this obviously unstable individual was some how allowed to leave the school district offices and enter the Ward Elementary School. I do not have that luxury as I have a child at the Ward school. I do not think I am alone among Ward parents in being concerned that someone such as this was (a) in charge of children at a school; (b) allowed to enter the building after threatening to kill herself, harm herself and possibly harm others. We have all read too many stories about people in her apparent state of mind going on a rampage.

A better question might be how was she even hired in the first place and what exactly happened in this meeting at City Hall. Either the district failed in screening her during the hiring phase or failed in notifying her of her dismissal but however you look at it, the issue here is not about her "stigma" but the clear and present danger she represented and the failure of school officials to manage that danger.

If the district told police that she might have gone to ALMS or Ward then why were security at both schools outside, on alert, looking for her and preventing her from getting on the school campus or, at least, the building itself. Why were the two schools not put on lockdown?

Finally, why were parents and staff not notified of the incident? As a Ward parent I can tell you that no information came home. I spoke with teachers at Ward who did not hear anything about it either.

All of which gets to the point -- that the district has a very serious situation on its hands and does absolutely nothing to follow procedure such as "lockdown/lockout" at ALMS and Ward. We have had similar cases with an intruder at Barnard, a stabbing incident at NRHS and others where state-mandated security procedures are not followed.

And I am going to tell you WHY they are not followed.

They are not followed because the safety of our children is a secondary consideration of school officials more worried about "positive" PR so they can pass their school budgets, justify high taxes and help realtors sell houses.

EducateReform on Tue, 04/10/2012 - 12:53

Bob: I agree with all you have said but would add that two issues are ofter overlooked when we discuss CSNR personnel matters. The first is that, often times, administrators at New Rochelle do a poor job of both screening and later evaluating staff. Worse is that they sometimes hire a person and tell them it is a permanent position when they know full well that it is not, and then fire them when the grant money goes dry. In other words, they sometimes use people which you can understand can be quite upsetting when the gig is up. The primary and secondary reasons for the poor hiring/firing practices is that the district seeks to avoid public realtions "nightmares" and more importantly, they, the adminstrators, seek to avoid having to provide the detailed documentation necessary for hiring and dismissal. The second issue that no one seems to mention is the way in which administrators implement their flawed dismissal precedures. Instead of directing addressing and attempting to solve fixable problems with staff before it reaches the point of no return, they often ambush and undermine employees who then react with shock and disbelief. Also, unlike many professional organizations, New Rochelle does not provide an opportunity for an exit interview during by which a recently dismissed employee can share thoughts and concerns that may benefit both the employee and the district. We have seen the results of theses neglent hiring and firing practices in the past when staff members have been "escorted" from buildings because they were infuriated by the unprofessional and disrespectful way they were treated. I also believe that a few years ago a librarian who dismissal may have been justified, committed suicide not long after being let go. This is not to say that the cause was the dismissal, but is is to say that it may have been a factor that could have made a difference. It would be beneficial for all parties if the District could learn from both its past and intentionally deceptive mistakes.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Tue, 04/10/2012 - 14:09

Oft-repeated advice to managers is to be slow to hire, quick to fire.

What we have seen to often in New Rochelle is hiring or promoting people based on who they know and the routine waving of policies designed to protect students and staff (e.g. SAVE law) or civil service or union requirements to post jobs or exams for jobs intended to prevent patronage hirings.

In New Rochelle, Talk of the Sound has repeated on numerous examples of allowing people to begin work in the schools without the required background checks being complete, hirings through the friends and family networks, violations of state law laws like civll service requirements and 211 waivers and much more.

Many, many jobs are posted in New Rochelle where the candidate has already been determined. The entire hiring process from preliminary interviews to final selections is a farce intended to create the facade of proper hiring procedures. The single biggest conduit for administrative positions is the pipeline between the New York City school system and New Rochelle.

I can cite many, many examples but the most obvious is Nadine Pacheco. The district knew perfectly well that she did not have her required administrative license and yet gave her the job of Assistant Principal at Trinity Elementary School. Consider all of the people who sent in their resumes, took the time to come to New Rochelle for interviews, the people who were told they were finalists for the positions, went through those interviews only to later learn that another finalist who did not even meet the minimum requirement to hold the position was given the job.

The Pacheco story is not the exception. It's the rule.

Certain people have their friends, the spouses of friends or former work colleagues in mind for a position and then rig the process to result in their desired outcome.

In other cases, like non-pedagogical positions and hourly workers, there is not a legitimate, open competition for jobs. Does anyone seriously think that two heroin addicts with criminal histories could get a full-time job with benefits and a pension if they had to compete with qualified candidates for those positions? Does anyone think a guy who is arrested over and over again for drug offenses could successfully compete for such a job? Does anyone think that workers who spend their days lounging around iHop, the BagelZone, Dunkin' Donuts and other preferred hangouts could keep their jobs if there was an open, competitive system?

In some cases this is nepotism (family) and other cases it is cronyism (friends and associates) but in either case, there are a large number of people who are waved into positions because of who they know with little or no regard for whether they are the best person, the most qualified person for the job.

Once you accept the idea that "friends and family" are entitled to jobs working for the school district you open the floodgates for every sort of miscreant imaginable. In the past several years, there have been multiple cases of employees arrested while employed by the district or shortly after leaving district employments. The arrests were for fraud, theft, drunk driving, rape and murder. Other employees have been allowed to continuing working for the district after sexually assaulting fellow employees, sexually assaulting children, engaging in child pornography, viewing pornography, drunk driving and more.

Given these facts, it is hard to dispute the idea that there is something seriously wrong with the hiring process in New Rochelle. How many other schools district in Westchester County can boast of having had murderers and rapists on their payroll in just the last three years?

In this case I will add one other factor. I have several reports that the Mandarin program itself was a hastily arranged, slap-dash program gotten up quickly to take advantage of various grants. It may be that this new teacher was going to fail no matter what but it surely did not help that she was working without the safety net of an existing, well-established curriculum. Chasing grant money for the sake of getting the money without an established strategy is a whole other issue, one that has been raised many times by board member Jeffrey Hastie. He has largely been ignored on this issue.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Sat, 04/07/2012 - 13:40

Let me ask a simple question.

Do you think this woman should ever be put in a position of being responsible for children?

Mike New Roc on Fri, 05/11/2012 - 23:13

In her present condition NO, However, She should get help and if she has performance issues at work, She should work on that, Get better and try again. I wish her well....

John Imburgia on Sat, 04/07/2012 - 22:28

I understand what you are saying. Whether she should or shouldn't of had the position depends on her her background and her stability at the time she was hired. Other than that, without knowing the person, I can't really comment.

As far as my previous remarks, there are plenty of people who have meltdowns and then get help and go on to remain productive members of society. I am just looking at it from another angle.

fearisourenemy on Sat, 04/07/2012 - 12:52

Your point is well taken. Nevertheless there are a number of issues to consider. Let’s start with the most important; child safety. Here we have an example of an emotionally distraught and unstable individual, who threaten to kill herself and placed all responsibility on the agent of her employer who delivered the message. There are countless examples in the news of employees being dismissed who responded in similar fashion and later directed their anger towards those they worked with. As we all know, this particular individual worked with children. When weighing child safety against adult safety, I believe most of us chose child safety. The fact is that we still do not know how this will turn out. It may not be over. This is the reason we practice lockdowns in schools.

Once again, the City School District made no effort to inform the school community of the incident. Bob has done his due diligence to investigate the matter and report it the community. This is the school district’s responsibility. The school district intentionally hides these incidents from the public. Unfortunately, the high level of detail is necessary to demonstrate that the events actually occurred and not just a fabrication. Mistakes are sometimes made. The district position has always been to point to inaccuracies or adopt a “plausible deniability” defense rather than get ahead of the issue and put out the correct information. This posture does nothing to make things better. This forum forces the district to address what they would prefer to remain hidden. We can all comment on the things that Bob does wrong. The fact is that he is doing something. Bob is vilified on a daily basis by those who do nothing more than point out what they perceive as mistakes and/or inaccuracies. I am well aware that you are not vilifying Bob rather stating your opinion. Furthermore, it is also not my intent to claim to know what you do or not do. I do admit that I have taken your comments as an opportunity to share some thoughts on the issue. My intent is engage in a respectful dialogue and to propose you to consider some of these issues in your final analysis.

The fact is that what we have here is another example of the City School District’s inability to properly vet employees. For those of us who have followed this site carefully for some time, we have seen countless examples of the hiring and firing (sometimes not) of individuals who should never be around children much less work with them. Bob (via this website) has provided conclusive evidenced of terrible flaws in the City School District of New Rochelle’s human resources processes that cannot be simply dismissed as isolated incidents with statements like “consider the source.” The worst example of this is the case of Jose Martinez; a predatory monster who walked the halls of Isaac E. Young Middle School for three years with free reign to destroy the lives of the most vulnerable of our children. The point is if we did a better job on hiring staff, we would save ourselves some of all the unnecessary ugliness of having to fire them.

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