Weekly Feature



2018-10-11 / Education

Two Orchard Park educators attain New York State Master Teacher status


Brian Dena Brian Dena In early October, two Orchard Park High School teachers were selected as members of the New York State Master Teachers program by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Math teacher Brian Dena and industrial arts teacher Joseph Bella were two of the 275 recipients chosen.

The 275 Master Teachers are dedicated professionals who teach science, technology, computer science, robotics, coding, engineering, and math courses across grades K-12, including advanced placement, honors, Regents and international baccalaureate levels. All Master Teachers are active beyond their classrooms.

Dena is in his 23rd year at Orchard Park High School and is currently teaching advanced calculus, AP calculus and applied mathematics.

In addition to teaching at the high school, he serves as the adviser of math club, along with colleague, Bret Norvilitis, and has previously served as the district 6-12 math coordinator. He has been a cooperating teacher for student teachers and a mentor for current teachers.


Joseph Bella Joseph Bella “Mr. Dena has long distinguished himself as an educator of the highest quality. On behalf of his colleagues at the high school, I congratulate Brian on this tremendous recognition,” said high school Principal Jonathan Wolf.

In addition to teaching in Orchard Park, Dena is an adjunct instructor for Medaille College, where he teaches classes that include elementary mathematics for aspiring teachers.

Dena learned about the Master Teacher program from a colleague and was interested in providing his students with STEM related applications in class. He feels that calculus is the language spoken in many of the sciences, especially physics. By working closely with Orchard Park High School Physics teacher Greg Hylkema, he gains new insight into providing students with physics-related activities, the district said.

As a Master Teacher, Dena said he is looking forward to building relationships within the STEM community.

“I feel that after 23 years I have gotten closer to mastering my own subject matter, but have a lot of learning to do in others, Dena said. “This experience will enrich my own teaching and in the end, my students’ learning.”

He lives in Wheatfield with his wife, Rebecca, and two daughters, Allison and Katelyn.

Bella is in his first year of teaching at the high school, his alma mater.

Prior to coming to the high school, Bella taught in the Buffalo School District at the Charles Drew Science Magnet, the Antonia Pantoja School of Academic Excellence, and the Frederick Law Olmsted School.

At Olmsted, Bella was the yearbook adviser for several years, as well as the senior class adviser, and he managed the tech club. Some of his classes even competed in regional technology competitions.

Bella has always been interested in relating the practical skills and engineering concepts that students learn in technology education to the theory of mathematics and the research and discovery of science.

As a Master Teacher, Bella hopes to learn and grow as an educator through exposure to the program’s numerous collaborative professional development opportunities. This will allow him to integrate more STEM topics into the classroom.

“I am excited to work with the teachers in the Master Teacher program to learn and grow, and help contribute to the excellent educational community here in the Orchard Park district,” Bella said.

Wolf also applauded the honor.

“Congratulations to Mr. Bella on being named a New York State Master Teacher. I am so pleased that Joe has decided to return to his alma mater and continue the tradition of excellence in our technology department,” Wolf said.

Throughout their four-year participation in the program, Dena and Bella will receive an annual $15,000 stipend; engage in peer mentoring and intensive content-oriented professional development opportunities throughout the academic year; work closely with pre-service and early career teachers to foster a supportive environment for the next generation of STEM teachers; attend required regional cohort meetings; and participate in and lead several professional development sessions each year.

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