Betsy McIsaac, a long-time seasonal resident, heard that the Vineyard was getting a charter school when she read about it in the paper last summer.

Today, she is part of its educational advisory group. Because Mrs. McIsaac worked as a school administrator for 30 years, her expertise has been greatly appreciated by charter school organizers.

"I just said, 'Can I help?' Because I've been through starting a school before," said Mrs. McIsaac, whose experience ranges from teaching in a conventional school to helping manage an international school in Dusseldorf, Germany. "I just read it in the paper. It's interesting how many people have surfaced that way. It's very exciting."

The Martha's Vineyard Charter School is one of about a dozen new alternative schools approved by the state under the Education Reform Act of 1993.

A charter school is privately operated and publicly funded, and, on Martha's Vineyard, it is a place where children plan their education with parents and teachers. There will be no principal, no grades and no bells; instead, children will be taught that education is a 24-hour experience that takes place in the classroom and in the community.

Since earning their charter in March, school organizers -- a small group of parents -- have had no trouble in attracting input from people like Mrs. McIsaac, local community leaders, educators from top-ranked east coast colleges and Islanders from various trades. This kind of input will help realize the goal of interaction between the school and the community.

Still, there's hard work ahead. Some of the challenges facing the Martha's Vineyard Charter School include:

•Finding a site.

•Gaining legislative approval for the school to serve the whole Island equally. To do so, the school must get an exemption from a state law that requires a charter school to give preference to one municipality.

•Fund raising. While the school will receive public money for operation expenses, the state offers no financial support for the start-up of a charter school.

Charlotte Costa, president of the board of trustees, says that the school is behind its original schedule. For example, school directors had expected to be enrolling children in November. They held off because the state advised them to wait for their legislation to pass. Still, Mrs. Costa says the school will open in the fall.

"I feel like if we get the land, we're ready to go," she said. "It's going to be one terrific school."

The search for a site has been frustrating, she said. The group has looked at 25 different sites that will not work. What it needs is four acres, centrally located, with access to public utilities. Because the group is short on money, the school's headquarters probably will be portable buildings, the kind that, for example, are used as additional classrooms at the Edgartown School. Eventually, the school will have a permanent building.

The legislation is important because it will allow the school to treat all towns equally. Without the legislation, the school would be forced to give preference to students who live in the town where the school is located. Mrs. Costa and others will meet with Rep. Eric Turkington and Sen. Henri Rauschenbach today to discuss the matter. They hope it will be resolved in January, when the legislature reconvenes, and enrollment can begin then.

Although there's work ahead, Mrs. Costa points to the expertise and commitment of the now dozens of people involved, some of whom serve on the school's board of trustees, its advisory group or its nonprofit fund-raising group called Options in Education. The fund-raising effort includes a raffle for a week at a tropical resort, which is owned by one of the board members.

These people have been drawn by a plan that's been two years in the making.

Parents envision an institution where members of the community will teach alongside six regular staff teachers. The school, in its first year, will serve about 60 children, ages 9 through 14. About 200 families have expressed interest, Mrs. Costa said.

These students will be able to design an education that will prepare them for any kind of future -- college life or work as a shingler -- emphasizing as democratic ideals the Island "kind of models." Student work will take the form of a long-term portfolio that will be evaluated at each semester's end.

"We want to turn the education back over to the kids," she said, "not compare you to anybody else but lead you forward in your studies."