Lake Norman High reverses course, will welcome exchange students

After saying it would accept no foreign exchange students this fall, Lake Norman High in Mooresville has reversed course and said it will educate them after all.

Citing budget cuts and “teacher allotment reductions,” the school’s principal notified sponsoring groups that the school would be unable to educate exchange students in the 2015-16 school year, according to recent email correspondence obtained by the Observer.

“I have already declined several requests,” Principal Keith Gentle said in an email last week to Cliff Hunnicutt, incoming president of the Top of the Lake Mooresville Rotary Club. The club had lined up three local families to house a German student over the next school year.

But the school has now reversed itself, Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Brady Johnson confirmed Tuesday. Lake Norman High is in the Iredell-Statesville school system.

Johnson said he asked Gentle to accept the four or five exchange students after being notified of Gentle’s decision by school board member Anna Bonham.

Gentle couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Overcrowding at the school was the main reason Gentle initially declined to accept the exchange students who planned to attend Lake Norman High in August, Johnson said.

He said the Rotary exchange in particular “is such a valuable tool” it needed to continue at the school, and he asked Gentle to find a way to accommodate the students. The Rotary club has sponsored five exchange students in recent years, including another student from Germany and others from South American countries, Hunnicutt said.

Mooresville town commissioner David Coble, meanwhile, contacted Pine Lake Preparatory, a public charter school in Mooresville, about educating the German student if Lake Norman High didn’t.

“I would love to accommodate this request,” Pine Lake Head of School Chris Terrill told Coble in an email reply obtained by the Observer. “... I am not worried about the funding. I see it as a learning experience for our students to be exposed to a student from another culture.”

Hunnicutt said he’s glad Lake Norman High is now accepting the exchange students.

Hosting students from other countries and sending local students overseas molds future leaders and builds international goodwill and understanding, he said.

Because of the value the school system sees in such exchanges, Iredell-Statesville is working to bring in about a hundred students from China two school years from now, Johnson said.

“Investing in the life of a young person is one of the best investments I believe we could ever make,” Hunnicutt, a banker and longtime community volunteer, told the Observer.

Marusak: 704-358-5067;

Twitter: @jmarusak