Welcome Kane Willis, New Upper School Dean

Our new Upper School Dean Kane Willis comes to Poly from the Admissions Office at Haverford College, where he served as Assistant Director of Admissions and Access and Diversity Initiatives.

Willis said he has been obsessed with the college admissions process since middle school. Growing up in Los Angeles, he attended public school until eighth grade. In middle school he found a copy of the Princeton Review of Colleges and read the description of every school. Teachers noticed his talent and eagerness to learn. Soon he was recruited to go to the Webb Schools of California, a private school. Willis was the first person in his family to graduate from high school, college, and graduate school. He earned his BA from Amherst College with a double major in English and Political Science with concentrations in psychoanalysis and international studies. He then earned his MS in Education from Johns Hopkins University with concentrations in social policy, secondary education, and science education.

As someone who went to high school outside his own neighborhood, Willis knows what it is like for both parents and students to navigate an unfamiliar experience and their expectations of it. Willis brings to Poly what families and students will need to “unpack” those experiences.

Willis found he enjoyed working with high school students and “liked the idea of helping students understand what it means to be themselves. Helping them unpack and discover their interests, identities and expressions.” He compared their growth to a tree with the roots being their values, the trunk the person, and the leaves as the manifestations of their identities, passions, and what it means to be themselves.

“I’m excited to form strong bonds and trust with Poly students.”

Coming from the Admissions Office of a selective institution such as Haverford College, Willis knows peers at many elite schools to which Poly students will apply. He said he comes to Poly with a “very solid admissions lens” and hopes to “unpack the process, goals, and how to get money to go to college” for students and families. He has a knowledge of what works in the application process and whether a student will be competitive at a school. Willis looks to help kids find the right fit for them. He said there is a misconception about whether there is a formula to get into college. “There is a formula,” he said, “to put yourself into the best position possible to be admitted to an appropriate institution given one’s academic achievement and life circumstances.” That includes excelling at academics, participating in extracurriculars, and writing strong essays. It is important to know the steps and stages in the process. It is good to have goals, but they must also be flexible, he said.

At Amherst College, Willis gave tours as an intern in the Admissions Office and enjoyed the work. He considered going to law school, but decided to learn more about the process of teaching. For two years, Willis taught at a high school in Hawaii as part of Teach for America. It opened a window to the high school side of the admissions process. He realized that as a teacher, “You are responsible for other people’s children. “You help build their foundations for what success is and what it means to be a ‘good human.’

Willis will stand out on campus for not only his admissions expertise. At 6’ 10,” he has been asked many times whether he played basketball. Yes, he did in high school where he was captain of the basketball team. He also competed in tennis and water polo and hiked the Grand Canyon. He also loves Harry Potter and Pokémon and describes himself as a “most extroverted introvert.”

Willis looks forward to having a direct impact on Upper School students as they navigate their high school years. “I’m excited to form strong bonds and trust with Poly students.”