Aliya Catanch-Bradley does her best to provide a nurturing environment and rich learning opportunities for the 500 students who attend Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary in North Philadelphia.

But many are like Herman Andino, a Bethune eighth grader who feels anxiety not about what happens during class, but about how he gets there.

“Even though I feel safe in my school, I don’t feel safe around my school,” Herman said. “I don’t feel safe coming out of school.”

As Philadelphia grapples with a gun violence epidemic and a recent spate of shootings near schools, leaders made a joint public appearance Monday, and stood with students and educators to say school safety must be one of the city’s highest priorities.

Schools “need to be havens,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “They need to be sanctuaries.”

Krasner, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, Mayor Jim Kenney and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., spoke with one voice — a rarity in a city where officials, particularly the district attorney and police officials, have aired fundamental disagreements about how to solve the gun violence crisis.

“A child or parent should never, ever have to worry about being deliberately harmed while in school,” Outlaw said.

After a month that saw a 13-year-old was killed on his way to school at E.W. Rhodes Elementary and a 16-year-old seriously injured and a 66-year-old killed in a shooting outside Lincoln High School, city police announced an increased presence in 25 zones touching 38 schools around the city. Those patrols have just begun.

The school district also will begin a “Safe Path” program, stationing paid community volunteers outside some schools. That program will roll out to Motivation, Lincoln, Roxborough and Sayre High Schools by the end of the 2021-22 term.

» READ MORE: Philly schools will pay community members to keep kids safe on their way to and from school amid gun violence crisis

No new initiatives were announced Monday, but leaders said the safe operation of public schools is directly related to the city’s ability to calm gun violence. Citywide, there have been 458 homicides through Oct. 29, up from 414 during the same period in 2020.

Kenney said there was no single solution to gun violence, but underscored that “for our administration at this moment in time, there’s no greater priority than preventing the scourge of guns.” He pointed to programs in place at Bethune that provide after-school activities and support for students at risk of becoming truant as ways to prevent future shootings.

“We need to address this from all angles,” the mayor said.

Gun violence is not new, its effects are being felt more than ever this year, said Catanch-Bradley. Her students are often on edge.

“Often they come to school very concerned about how they have to travel in some very unsafe conditions to get here,” she said. “I wish I could promise all my students safe travels, but I can’t, so we do the best we can.”

Veronica Joyner, founder and chief administrative officer of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, has had to add a grief counselor and frequent lockdown drills to the school on North Broad Street. One of her students was shot and killed getting off a SEPTA bus, she said; another was shot and killed while trying to usher his family inside to safety; and another was killed while coming home from work.

Joyner said she was “appalled” at a lack of action around the issue.

“It is not business as usual when 450 people are murdered on the streets and we say nothing,” Joyner said. “Call it for what it is — it’s a state of emergency in Philadelphia.”

Joyner said young people need more direction.

“We need to teach our children to use their hands for skills and not to pick up a gun,” she said.

Cayla Waddington, a sophomore at Mathematics, Civics and Sciences, lamented the ripple effect gun violence has on young people troubled by trauma.

“The fallout comes when grades drop and students begin acting out,” Waddington said. “They are then labeled as problem students with behavior issues.”

It becomes “a seemingly endless cycle of violence,” said Waddington. It “has ravaged our communities, and it has to stop.”

Leaders also called for a halt to threats and violence against school staff, which Hite said has risen in recent months.

“We are not threatening teachers. We are not telling our kid to go home to get a gun. We are not touching teachers. We are not punching teachers. ... we are not having it. So don’t even think about it,” Krasner said.

Staff writer Chris Palmer contributed to this article.