The awards program, established in 1985, alternates biannually between elementary and secondary schools. Each award is valid for four years.
Thurston Middle School was recognized as a Distinguished School in 1996 and 2003; El Morro Elementary was recognized in 1987.
By comparison, science magnet Troy High in Fullerton has been recognized four times since 1988. McGaugh Elementary in Los Alamitos has also received it four times since 1993.
Closer to home, Newport Harbor High, El Toro High and Mission Viejo High have each received the designation three times.
In 2006, 45 elementary schools received the honor, including four in Newport-Mesa Unified and three in Ocean View Unified.
The program is different from the national Blue Ribbon Schools Program, which recognizes either dramatic improvement in schools with a heavily disadvantaged population or academic superiority, based on being in the top 10% in state testing.
Laguna Beach High was a Blue Ribbon school from 1994 to 1996; El Morro Elementary was honored as a Blue Ribbon school for the 1987-88 school year.
Last year, four Orange County schools were designated Blue Ribbon: Northwood High in Irvine, the Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana, St. Cecilia School in Tustin and Troy High.
The Distinguished Schools will officially be honored at a statewide awards ceremony, where the state superintendent will present each school with a plaque and flag.
But Austin said the celebration won't be as showy back at home.
"I'm not a big party guy," he said. "There's one thing we wrote over and over in our report: 'We need to be better tomorrow than we are today.' There is no finish line, ever."