Metro Nashville Public Schools and the dropout prevention organization Communities In Schools of Memphis have won planning grants of $150,000 each. Recipients are expected to use the money to develop a project aimed at improving local educational outcomes.

The Nashville district and the Memphis nonprofit are among 10 groups nationwide to receive money from Together for Students — an umbrella group composed of three education-focused organizations. Funding totalling $1.5 million comes from the Ford Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

In Nashville, the effort will be focused on measuring the impact of its program Community Achieves, which centers on four key areas: college and career readiness, family engagement, health and wellness, and social services. But the program suffers from chronic absenteeism in participating schools. So the district plans to use the grant money to develop a technology platform to track attendance. Program leaders are also considering offering food, childcare and stipends to encourage dialogue between families and educators.

“If we’re looking at the impact that each partner is having on their kids, one thing we can’t tell right now is how many students are attending,” said Alison McArthur, program coordinator for Community Achieves. “Maybe it’s during the school day, and they’re not able to make it there. Maybe it’s during lunch, and they’re not coming. Maybe it’s after school and they don’t have transportation.”

In Memphis, the planning grant will support a collaboration between Communities in Schools, StriveTogether, which uses data to help close achievement gaps, and Seeding Success, which works to ensure student readiness throughout their K–12 years. Together, these groups are seeking to identify barriers to student achievement, and to connect students and families with relevant resources and interventions.

“We’re hoping to align systems that help us eliminate the disparities minority students face,” said Sonji Branch, executive director of Communities in Schools of Memphis.

The beauty of a planning grant, she said, is that it will allow programs like hers to identify what works and what doesn’t, before moving forward with a plan of action.

Award winners, selected from among 86 applicants, were announced on May 23. The other planning grant recipients are school districts or nonprofits in seven other states and the District of Columbia. They have until October to complete their project blueprint.