She took the gavel from outgoing president Melissa Baten Caswell.
Board member Dana Tom was elected board vice-president.
Townsend, first elected to the board in 2003 and re-elected in 2007, also served as board president in 2006-07.
In rare split votes of the board, she has parted with the majority on the 2009 decision to adopt the Everyday Mathematics curriculum for Palo Alto elementary schools, and a decision this year to shift the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic calendars to an earlier school start date in order to end the first semester before the December holidays.
Townsend is an officer of the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation, which sponsors the Palo Alto Black & White Ball, a fundraiser for recreational and youth activities in the Palo Alto area.
She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin, a master's degree in public policy from American University and a law degree from Loyola University of Chicago.
She has publicly commented that although both her parents did not go beyond the eighth grade, all eight of their children went to college and beyond.
Her two daughters are graduates of Palo Alto High School.
Townsend's second term — along with the first terms of board members Caswell and Barbara Klausner — had been due to expire last month. However, following the resounding passage last year of a Palo Alto measure to consolidate City Council elections with even-year county and state balloting as a cost-saving effort, the Board of Education in January voted to follow suit.
As a consequence, school board elections were moved from November 2011 to November 2012, adding a year to the board tenures of Caswell, Klausner and Townsend.