Open Window School was founded in 1983 by Mary Ann Simpson and Jean Booker to serve intellectually gifted preschoolers. In 1985, it was incorporated and expanded to include an elementary program. Initially, Open Window was housed in a church basement in Bellevue. After several years, it relocated to the former Lake Heights Elementary School in Newport Hills, Bellevue, where it shared the rented facility with the Lake Heights YMCA.
Since its inception, Open Window has been dedicated to nurturing children’s social and emotional needs, intellectual curiosity, creativity and capacity for critical thinking along with advanced academic skills. At the heart of its philosophy is the conviction that its students are “children first, gifted second.”
Founding Head Mary Ann Simpson departed in 1992 and was succeeded for two years by Nicole Abu-Haydar who was followed by Ed Brignall and then Joan Cheifeitz. After this period of administrative changes, Jean Augustine, an experienced and highly respected former Head of Epiphany School, provided a year of strong, stabilizing interim leadership. A professional search for a permanent Head of School in 1997 resulted in the appointment of Wilder Dominick from the Seattle Country Day School. Ms. Dominick served for 15 years of tremendous growth as Open Window developed into one of the Eastside's leading independent schools. During her tenure, the school devoted great effort to strengthening its curriculum, finances, business policies, and governance practices.
The stability, success, and increasing demand for the Open Window program emphasized the need to build a permanent home. In 1998, the school purchased 7.6 acres on Cougar Mountain between Bellevue, Newcastle, and Issaquah in the Lakemont neighborhood and began to work with the Miller Hull Partnership to design a new campus. The property was purchased from Ted and Ann Leber, who had farmed the land for five decades, and the school decided to retain the original 1914 farmhouse and use it for administrative offices. The school's library learning commons is named in honor of the Lebers. Due to neighborhood opposition, campus construction was delayed several years; however, in September 2004, Open Window moved to its new campus and enrollment immediately expanded 52%, from 163 to 248 students, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
Once established on the new campus, the school began realizing another strategic initiative, the creation of a middle school to complement the elementary program. To fulfill its mission of serving gifted students, the Board of Trustees and administration concluded that the ideal configuration of the school was a kindergarten through eighth grade program. Consequently, it eliminated the pre-kindergarten program in 2008-2009 and began managing to an ultimate model of two sections per grade level, kindergarten through eighth grade. Open Window is the only Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS) accredited K-8 independent school on the Eastside designed to serve the needs of gifted learners and is acknowledged as one of the country's leaders in the field of Gifted Education.
Open Window’s middle school division, initially known as Vista Academy, welcomed its first sixth grade class of 11 students in 2007 and graduated its first eighth grade class in 2010. By 2011, the middle school had grown to over 100 students and included fifth through eighth grades. The success of the middle school necessitated facility expansion including additional classrooms, common areas, and the development of outdoor play areas. Construction was completed in September 2011. In 2012, the separate name for the middle school was discontinued, and the school changed its colors to cardinal and black with a new logo reinforcing Open Window School's K-8 identity.
Upon the retirement of Wilder Dominick following the 2011-12 school year, Jeff Stroebel became Head of School. Under his leadership, Open Window has grown in enrollment and breadth of program with the development of the school's five core values, which define the school's unique program for gifted learners. Indicative of Open Window's reputation as a leader in gifted education, Mr. Stroebel was awarded the Washington Association of Educators of the Talented and Gifted (WAETAG) Distinguished Leader Award in 2019. The Board of Trustees appointed Elaine Christensen to succeed Mr. Stroebel upon his retirement in June 2020. Ms. Christensen's headship at Open Window began in 2020, formerly serving as Middle School Director and Director of Professional Development at Lakeside School in Seattle.
Guided by a single mission, the school is organized into lower and middle school divisions. Lower school consists of kindergarten through fourth grade in homeroom classes with a lead homeroom teacher and full-time associate teacher. Open Window has one of the largest middle schools among independent schools in the region and is organized by academic disciplines for grades five through eight. In addition to core academic programs, students receive art, drama, music, physical education, technology and Spanish language instruction.
Open Window is well known for its use of technology to enhance student learning. Director of Strategic Innovation Adrienne Gifford was named Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) Technology Leader of the Year in 2016. Middle school student teams have designed smart phone apps that have won "Best in Nation" and "Best in Region" awards in the 2014 and 2016 Verizon App Challenge. During the 2015-16 school year and again in 2019-20, Open Window was one of 20-30 schools in the United States and Canada invited to participate in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Working in collaborative teams, fourth through eighth grade students designed micro-gravity experiments and an outside panel of researchers chose one of the seventh grade experiments to be conducted on the International Space Station.
From kindergarten through eighth grade, students are encouraged to be innovators and apply their knowledge to solve real world problems. In four of the past seven years, an Open Window School eighth grader has been honored as Bellevue's Outstanding Middle School Student.