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Popular teacher Mitch Dorson, 63, dies unexpectedly

Popular teacher Mitch Dorson, 63, dies unexpectedly

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Mitchell Charles Dorson

Dorson Mitchell

Students and faculty at Green Fields Country Day School will hold a special assembly today for a beloved teacher who died suddenly over the weekend.

Mitch Dorson, 63, an animated instructor with a passion for bringing American history and government to life, died Sunday.

"We really are in a state of mourning and trying to help our kids work through this. They were visibly shaken this morning," said Matt Teller, head of school at Green Fields. "He was truly loved in this community, and his absence will be felt for a long time."

A memorial service is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road, Dorson's brother, Bob Dorson, said Monday.

Mitch Dorson was born in New York City and grew up in Tucson, where he graduated from Tucson High School. Dorson's family operated a local furniture store, Dorson's Furniture, which was founded in 1953 and closed in 2000.

After high school, Dorson earned a journalism degree from the University of Arizona and went on to graduate studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He worked for the nonprofit government accountability group Common Cause in New Jersey and Washington, D.C., before returning to Arizona, his brother said.

Dorson found his lifeblood in education. He spent three decades teaching students in Tucson, beginning at Temple Emanu-El, where he taught religious school during his sophomore and junior years at the UA. He was a student teacher at Palo Verde High School, taught for five years at Cholla High School and spent 15 years as the director of education for Temple Emanu-El. Dorson went on to spend 10 years teaching at Catalina Foothills High School before joining the staff of Green Fields in the fall of 2005.

In 1995, Dorson wrote a guest opinion for the Star about Veronica Torres, a young student and athlete he met while volunteering at Carrillo Intermediate Magnet School in 1991. Dorson remembered Torres as a kind, engaged and ambitious student. But when Torres was 14, she was charged and later convicted of murdering another teen in a shooting on South Sixth Avenue. Dorson wrote about Torres' troubled family background and grieved for her lost future.

"We say we are a land which offers great opportunity to everyone. But that is the great American lie. To even suggest that Veronica Torres, with all her gifts, had the same chance to succeed as does my daughter - who lives in a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood and has the active support of two parents plus a whole host of other adults - is absurd," Dorson wrote.

Dorson's departure from Catalina Foothills made headlines because he resigned after school administrators would not tell the Flinn Foundation that Dorson had reason to believe one of its scholarship candidates was a classroom cheat. An assistant superintendent for the district reported Dorson to the state Education Department, saying Dorson had "engaged in unprofessional conduct" when he spoke to the Star about the student.

A Star editorial at the time praised Dorson for employing the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. "When it comes down to a choice of someone's perverse notion of professionalism or the First Amendment, we'll opt for the Constitution," the Star wrote then.

Parents started a petition of support for Dorson. Students gave speeches praising him at normally quiet school board meetings.

Dorson said he was worried not just about the ethical implications of the student's winning, but also the resentment it might cause peers.

At the time, Dorson remarked that the same qualities that made him a student and parent favorite made him "a pain to administrators."

At Green Fields, Dorson taught classes in U.S. history, U.S. government and politics, and European history, including advanced placement classes. He brought his material to life with re-enactments of congressional sessions and interactive discussions on politics. Well-known for attending Green Fields sporting events, particularly basketball and volleyball games, Dorson always dressed in a Green Fields jersey and used a megaphone left over from his days as a student at Tucson High to lead cheers, Teller said.

"He just reveled in celebrating our kids and their achievements," Teller said. "He was truly special. He knew his material, but what set him apart was his commitment to his students."

Dorson is survived by his two grown children, Elana and Noah.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at or 573-4134.

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