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Toll Middle School leader returns to Media City to become Burbank High principal

Tom Crowther, principal at Toll Middle School in Glendale Unified, has accepted the position of principal at Burbank High School. Crowther attended Burbank Unified schools, was a teacher and coach at Burroughs High School and a one-time high school sports reporter. Crowther poses with his wife, Jill Vander Borght, and children, Everly, 9, on the right, and Clarke, 7.
(Andrew J. Campa)

Though homecomings are usually held in the autumn, Tom Crowther, principal at Toll Middle School in Glendale Unified, will enjoy his own version of that celebration on Monday.

The Burroughs High School graduate and former district special-education teacher, baseball coach, student newspaper adviser, Burbank High assistant principal and high school sports reporter is returning to the Media City as the next principal at Burbank High.

Crowther takes over for Michael Bertram, who resigned May 31 after six years in the post, citing health reasons and a desire to spend more time with his family.

Crowther was joined by his wife, Jill Vander Borght, who is co-chair of the Burbank Arts for All Foundation, and their children, Everly, 9, and Clarke, 7, as he was formally recognized during the Burbank Unified school board’s first meeting of the new school year on Thursday.


“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Crowther, a former Burbank Leader freelancer. “Having been at Burbank High for a few years, I realize that I’m returning to a very special place. There’s a strong faculty and staff, a lot of great people, and I’m just looking forward to getting started and getting into the good work with them.”

Crowther has lived in Burbank since 1986, when his family moved from Washington D.C.

He attended Bret Harte Elementary, including being part of the school’s final sixth-grade class before the school contracted the grade. He then headed to Luther Burbank Middle School and Burroughs High.


Crowther said he initially wanted to pursue a journalism career and pined about “working with [sports personality] Chris Berman at ESPN” before a call from former Burroughs coach and current co-athletic director Jose Valle changed everything.

Valle asked Crowther, then a senior at USC, if he was interested in coaching the Burroughs High freshmen baseball team.

“I was in a Spanish class at USC that cost thousands of dollars, and all I was thinking about was finding a way to skip out and coach baseball,” Crowther said.

“It was there, working with kids, that I realized that was something I wanted to continue to do,” he added.

Crowther credits Valle and then Burroughs Principal Emilio Urioste, now Burbank Unified’s director of adult education, for paving his way into teaching, as Crowther instructed special education at Burroughs.

Even with a strong Burbank background, Crowther noted saying goodbye to Toll and Glendale Unified was difficult.

“Glendale has been wonderful to me, and I’ve enjoyed the experience,” he said.

“I have very mixed feelings about leaving Toll because it’s a very special school. Especially with Hoover, Keppel and Toll all on the same block, there’s like a kinship, a bond, and it’s hard to leave that behind,” he added.


Cynthia Foley, Glendale Unified’s director of human resources, said she understood the decision was tough.

“We are sad to lose Dr. Crowther, but we know Burbank is home for him and his family, and we wish him all the best in his new position,” she said in an email.

Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill said he was “extremely impressed” with Crowther’s background and resume.

“‘I’ve received some emails and [had] conversations about, ‘Are we choosing the best person for Burbank High School’?” Hill said.

“I can stand here today … and say ‘absolutely.’ I feel that Dr. Crowther has proven his reflective nature, his ability to take on challenges and having a clear instructional vision for Burbank High School,” Hill added.