Founders of the Martha's Vineyard Charter School have come a long way and they candidly admit they still have a long way to go before they open the school doors in September 1996.

Martha's Vineyard was one of 21 communities across the state to be granted a charter last March by the state Executive Office of Education under the provisions of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act (ERA).

Charter schools, which are operating in other states across the nation, provide new options for public education and a group of Vineyard parents actively pursued a local version. The Martha's Vineyard Charter School is not connected to the school superintendency but will have its own board of trustees accountable to the Executive Office of Education.

At a public information meeting early this month, chairman Charlotte Costa of West Tisbury and the other founders of the local charter school introduced themselves to the community. They described their goals and the work which remains to be done before they can open their doors to students between the ages of 10 and 16, with a limit of 60 for the first year. They have a five-year contract with the state that calls for a maximum enrollment of 180.

"We want the student body to reflect the diversity of the Martha's Vineyard population," says founder Nelia Decker of West Tisbury. The plan across the state generally has been one charter school per town, but Mrs. Decker and her co-founders asked that the Vineyard be considered as a single town. "Every child on Martha's Vineyard is eligible to apply," Mrs. Decker says.

The children will be required to take the state's test, known as the MEAP test, which is administered to Massachusetts students in the public schools when they are in the fourth, the eighth and the tenth grades. Joy Robinson-Lynch, a guidance counselor and interested parent, added at the meeting that she thinks the test is very interesting in the way it approaches different cognitive skills. The test is administered, school officials say, to determine how well individual schools are teaching material the state has identified as important.

"The challenge is to educate the children," says founder Sidney Morris, to allay the questions of whether the charter school will be test-oriented. Mr. Morris is a teacher at the Oak Bluffs School. The aim of the charter school is to have an individual learning plan for each child, he says. The student will be a major participant in drawing up the plan.

The mission of the Martha's Vineyard Charter School is to create a public school that will cultivate life-long learners. The curriculum will be taught through projects, a model that has been used in some Vineyard classrooms and from time to time at the Menemsha School. While the individual student will provide direction for his learning, he will also take part in group work that recognizes the "unique contributions of each member."

"The Martha's Vineyard Charter School will show that individualized and carefully monitored progress can be attained in a public school," is one of the stated principles of the school.

"Our school will be more structured at first than the other schools on the Vineyard," Mr. Morris told the meeting. "It takes a lot of structure to create freedom."

The money to educate pupils of the charter schools comes from several sources, the founders say. Some will come from the child's town, based on an average the state has formulated for the schooling of children in that town. In addition the Martha's Vineyard Charter School has a duty to bring in start-up money for the school through foundation grants, corporate sponsorships, after-school programs, community fund raisers, conferences and workshops which would be of benefit to other people in the community.

When the charter school opens its doors on the Island it may have some funds from the federal government, Mr. Morris says, but that is not a certainty.

This month the founders of the school switch to a new role and become governors instead of founders, Mrs. Costa said. The work ahead is to establish policy and to do the leg work of finding a home for the new school. They are eager and enthusiastic about their project and also mindful of the special knowledge that is needed.

"We are in the beginning of fund raising," says Martha Thurlow, a founder. "We will be grateful for any suggestions."

Mrs. Costa asks for help in writing grant applications and in researching school policies. She is hopeful a committee of three or four people will take on this essential task.

A copy of the charter from the state was circulated for all to see. With a broad smile Mrs. Costa announced the school now has its federal identification number and its first bank deposit. "Do you want to know how much it is?" she asked holding up an envelope. "Seven dollars!"