Ralph Arza was born in Santiago de Cuba about two kilometers from where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders made history at the Battle of San Juan Hill.
When Fidel Castro seized power the Arza family, like most of the Cuban people, lost everything to the new communist regime. Ralph never forgot the tenacity and courage exhibited by his father as he gathered his family to begin life again in the United States.
The Arza family settled in the shadows of the Orange Bowl in the inner city of Miami. Ralph fondly recalls learning to speak English by listening to the Top 40 radio hits of the late ’ 60s and early ‘ 70s. He also developed a lifelong passion for American football from listening to the roar of the crowds emanating from the stadium on fall afternoons.
Ralph graduated from Miami Senior High School in 1978, where he also represented the “Stings” on the football gridiron. After graduation, Ralph played football for a season at Beloit College in Wisconsin before returning to Florida to continue his education at Miami-Dade Community College. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Florida International University. After earning his degree, Ralph began a teaching career at his alma mater Miami High where he taught Government. In 1980, Ralph began coaching football as an assistant to head coach Charlie Bethel at Miami Jackson High School. In1985, Ralph accepted the head coaching position at Miami Senior High School. At twenty-five years old, he was the youngest head football coach in Miami-Dade County and the first Cuban-American head coach in the county’s history. Ralph turned around a losing program and delivered the school’s first winning season in 18 years. Under Ralph’s guidance five players went on to have NFL careers while numerous others played division 1 college football. Ralph’s effectiveness in the classroom was just as impressive. He is proud to note that many of his former students have gone on to become lawyers, judges, teachers, administrators and successful businessmen and women.
Ralph’s passion to lead and encourage young people extends beyond the classroom and the football field. In 1996, Ralph teamed up with local law enforcement and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) officials to create Top Performance overnight camps for disadvantaged youths. These camps removed teens from troubled neighborhoods and sought to open their eyes to the possibility that their lives could be different. Through team building activities, motivational speaking and time management coaching, Ralph was able to impact the lives of more than a thousand teens over a three-year period.
After an eighteen year teaching career, Ralph decided to pursue a career in public service where he believed he could have a bigger influence on educational reform in the state of Florida. He ran unsuccessfully for the Miami-Dade County school Board in 1996. This experience steeled his resolve to serve. Later that year, he was appointed Chairman of the Doral City Council. In 2000, Ralph was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and subsequently reelected to three consecutive terms. While in the legislature, Ralph worked closely with current U.S. Senator Marco Rubio as part of his leadership team and was instrumental in helping then Representative Rubio to become Florida’s first Cuban-American Speaker of the House.
While serving in Tallahassee, Ralph earned a reputation as a pioneer in school reform. His knowledge of educational issues prompted Governor Jeb Bush to declare, “Ralph Arza is a leader and partner in education reform.” Ralph was instrumental in drafting legislation that increased educational accountability. He worked closely with Governor Bush on developing the state’s A++ Program aimed at improving standards in Florida’s middle and high schools. Ralph co-sponsored Bill 271, which created income tax credits for corporations that contribute money to private organizations that provide scholarships to children from low-income families. In 2002, Governor Bush appointed Ralph to the South Regional Education Board (SREB). Later that year, Governor Ronnie Musgrove, of Mississippi, appointed Ralph to the SREB’s Executive Committee. Ralph’s desire to see that every child in Florida has the opportunity to receive a quality education led him to champion the Charter School Initiative, which places more control of educational choices into the hands of parents. Ralph’s commitment to education reform inspired another former Florida Governor to remark,” Ralph Arza is an educational expert.”
Today, Ralph lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida with Eris, his wife of 34 years, and their five beautiful children.