Leon Buttler is the new principal of Tucson Academy of Leadership and Arts, a K-8 charter school located downtown since 1997. TALA has gone through a revitalization of its own, extending its program this fall into the old Sears building at 55 N. Sixth Ave., across the street from the Ronstadt Transit Center. Buttler uses a Segway during his workday to move from one building to another--and he is gaining a reputation as the Segway Man of Sixth Avenue. For more information on TALA, call 882-9144.

So how did you end up with a Segway?

There was another business in here before we officially moved in--Comda, a calendar company. I was talking to the manager and saw it sitting there in the corner of his office. I asked him, "What's that?" "It's a Segway, but I never use it. You wanna buy it?" I bought it. I was already walking back and forth from our K-5 building about a block from here on Broadway (Boulevard). I wear a shirt and tie everyday to school. It took me not even five minutes, and I was zipping around the block.

What do the kids think?

The kids love it. A lot of the kids have asked me if they can try it, and I'm going to use it for some sort of incentive regarding attendance and testing. They really do like it. And now when I'm working, I get, "Hey, Segway man."

TALA has been around since 1997. What makes this year different, other than the fact that you are the new principal?

This year, Providence Service Corporation and its CEO, Fletcher McCusker, partnered with us and have committed a half-million dollars to the school. We also created partnerships with ArtFare and the Arizona Jazz Academy, with Doug Tidaback coming on board as our music director. And we're melding the Jazz Academy, along with theatrical art director Philip Bennett, into TALA to create a one-of-a-kind afterschool performing-arts training lab.

How did this happen?

We are also fortunate that Mr. McCusker is president of the board at ArtFare and helped make the merger happen between the school and ArtFare. ... We've literally taken over this entire block. We're refurnishing a restaurant right now called Burger City. Our middle school is here on the first floor, but next year, we are going to petition the state Charter Board to allow us to put a high school on the top floor. And that's when our world really opens up. High school students need elective credits, and we're going to (run) educationally appropriate business--like Burger City, for example, if they want to get into culinary arts. ... ArtFare will provide a lot of the artists for our training lab. It's a great package.

As a charter school, you are still accountable for all the testing that regular school districts are.

Charter schools are accountable for all that other traditional school districts are accountable for--we're our own district, so people in charter schools wear a lot of hats. That's why you see the drill on my desk. I just fixed a door. Then later on, I'm going to be paying bills, and then after that, I'm going to check on teachers and look at lesson plans, and then I'll be doing a report for the Arizona Department of Education for a certification.

Why do students pick charter schools in Tucson?

I think right now, a lot of it is convenience. We just lost a student the other day, and I asked my assistant what happened. She said the parents moved 7 or 8 miles away. They went to a different charter school. With today's gas prices, 7 or 8 miles can make a huge difference.

How are you marketing yourself right now?

We have the Ronstadt (Transit Center) across the street. For families with economic needs, we will provide transportation (with bus passes). Also, we are so sure of our school that we have created an incentive program. When any parent comes for a tour, and then enrolls a student in our school, we will give them $50 immediately, and then in October, we'll give them another $50. So in the end, we give them $100 just for trying our school.

Schools in the Tucson Unified School District can't do that.

Absolutely, and that is another distinct difference between a traditional and a charter school. There's not a lot of bureaucracy here. The students do have to do their part. They have to show up 95 percent of the time. And as long as they do that, I will buy them a bus pass every month.